Team Guides

FPL promoted sides: What to expect from Paul Heckingbottom’s Sheff Utd?

We begin our series on the newly-promoted Premier League sides with this look at Sheffield United’s manager, Paul Heckingbottom.

We will assess his management style, preferred tactics, tendency to rotate and openness with the press ahead of the Blades’ Fantasy Premier League (FPL) return, as well as looking at areas of his squad he might strengthen in.

To provide a fan’s view, we’ve asked Ben Meakin, the creator and host of BladesPod, and FPL Blade for their input here.

Articles on Sheff Utd’s defence and attack will follow.

WHAT TACTICS DO SHEFF UTD PLAY UNDER HECKINGBOTTOM?

Heckingbottom’s default formation in the Championship was a 3-5-2, which is very similar to the one Chris Wilder used during his time at Sheff Utd.

They don’t exactly do Wilder-esque overlapping centre-backs, but Anel Ahmedhodzic, in particular, gets forward at every opportunity. An example of this is captured below.

He supplied six goals and two assists from 32 starts in 2022/23, and is someone we will focus on in much greater detail in our bespoke piece on Sheff Utd’s defence.

Above: Anel Ahmedhodzic’s seasonal touch heatmap 2022/23

The team’s wing-backs play like traditional wingers, while much of their good form this year can be attributed to the excellent performances of midfield trio Sander Berge, Tommy Doyle and James McAtee.

The latter two, however, are both Manchester City loanees and will leave big boots to fill should they fail to return.

Further forward, Iliman Ndiaye is a Senegal international and undoubtedly one of their star players, playing off Oli McBurnie.

Heckingbottom might, of course, tweak his system in the Premier League, given the higher level, but three at the back seems certain to remain regardless.

“We’ve leaned on this formation all season and I’d be surprised if it changes much. Ndiaye gives it a bit of flexibility with his do-it-all ability and attitude but a lot of our success has come from familiarity with this system and each player’s individual roles within it.” – Ben Meakin, BladesPod

“Heckingbottom doesn’t change much. I have seen us go to a back four late in games, but he will generally tweak tactics but not really formation.” – FPL Blade

WHAT STYLE OF FOOTBALL DOES HECKINGBOTTOM FAVOUR?

Heckingbottom had his side playing some decent football in the Championship, with the Blades scoring the third-most goals last season (73). He prefers to play with a fast tempo, focusing on quick transitions with an emphasis on pressing, work rate and fitness.

The fact they ranked second for attempts from counter-attacks and third for attempts from set plays is encouraging, given how important both of those areas will be in their quest to stay up. On the ball, they averaged just 51.2% possession, the tenth-highest tally in the division.

Heckingbottom may go under the radar against bigger names like Vincent Kompany, but his tactical nous and man management skills deserve praise.

“We lack some of the innovation from our last promotion to the Premier League but the blueprint is similar: 3-5-2 where the wing-backs get forward regularly. We do play with aggression and speed which I’m hoping will be even more of an asset in the Premier League than the Championship: when we win the ball back (which we did better than most teams in the Championship), we move quickly down the pitch to try and catch teams out. Defensive solidity also underpinned our promotion.” – Ben Meakin, BladesPod

“Heckingbottom just picked up Wilder’s style of play and ran with it. He made a few tweaks due to players – our LCB doesn’t get forward as much as RCB due to Jack Robinson’s skill set. If we sign a new LCB, I expect that could change.

The midfield three is very similar to Wilder’s style. McAtee is a little more attacking than Fleck was on the LCM spot, and he became more of a wide forward or no. 10 interchanging with Ndiaye towards the end of the season.” – FPL Blade

DOES HECKINGBOTTOM LIKE A SETTLED SIDE OR WILL HE ROTATE?

Heckingbottom has a core group of players he trusts, but won’t shy away from making big calls.

Oliver Norwood, for example, had been one of Sheff Utd’s standout performers of the season but was forced out of the starting XI by youngster Tommy Doyle earlier this year, with more energy needed in the middle.

“We had a ridiculous injury list last season so rotation wasn’t ever an option. That said, he did make a bold call of shaking up two-thirds of the midfield with about 10 games to go and that proved pivotal to getting us over the line for promotion. He knows his best team but isn’t afraid to cut favourites from the line-up if they’re not performing.” – Ben Meakin, BladesPod

“Heckingbottom loves a settled starting XI, not changing often. It’s usually one or two at most rotating due to the amount of games. I don’t see us making many changes week over week unless forced too.” – FPL Blade

HOW DOES HECKINGBOTTOM HANDLE THE PRESS – AND WILL HE GIVE US HONEST TEAM NEWS?

“It’s an in-joke among United fans that Heckingbottom lies about 15 times in every press conference. I sympathise with him a bit because our injuries were honestly absurd last season but we all learned that when he says “this player’s close to a return” the true meaning is something along the lines of “he’s out for the season”. Case in point was a hint that Rhys Norrington-Davies might return from his October hamstring injury not long after the World Cup break: he didn’t play again all season.” – Ben Meakin, BladesPod

“He is the most vague manager ever when it comes to injury news. He loves to say players are back on the grass all the time and then we still don’t see them for three months. He keeps his cards close to his chest and I don’t tend to listen to what he says in press conferences.” – FPL Blade

WHERE MIGHT HECKINGBOTTOM STRENGTHEN IN THE SUMMER AND WHICH PLAYERS ARE IN DANGER OF LOSING THEIR PLACE?

Heckingbottom has a limited transfer budget to work with in the summer, as he looks to put together a squad capable of competing in the top-flight. They will have to be shrewd with their business, making sensible additions, with a focus on utilising the loan market, unless there is a takeover.

Indeed, Heckingbottom has already said he expects things to be “harder than last season in terms of things happening and action”. Sheff Utd were, after all, placed under a transfer embargo in January due to reported missing payments to another club, so it’s not exactly a pretty picture financially right now, despite promotion.

As a result, all the indications suggest there will be no repeat of what happened the last time Sheff Utd went up in 2019, when they spent £45m, with another £22m going on Berge in January.

Still, midfield and attack are priority positions for investment, but we might also see a new goalkeeper and left-sided centre-back arrive.

“We ended the season with two Man City loanees (Tommy Doyle and James McAtee) playing a big role in midfield, and their return does leave a hole there that will need filling as a priority. I’d like us to try and sign Doyle permanently but would guess that City would want McAtee to go and play at a team that might see more of the ball than we will next year.

In attack we’re perilously thin after Ndiaye and Oli McBurnie, who was dreadful in his last Premier League season but excellent last year. Beyond those two we’re down to the perennially-injured Rhian Brewster and then largely-unproven youngsters.” – Ben Meakin, BladesPod

“Our main targets, in my opinion, are GK, LCB, 2 x CMs and a striker.

We need another goalkeeper to compete with Foderingham or even take over from Wes and make him backup. We need to improve at LCB, too. Jack Robinson has been solid defensively but makes too many mistakes and doesn’t get forward enough.

Midfield I would expect we get one of Doyle or McAtee on loan. I would love to sign Doyle and loan McAtee, but we need someone to replace Norwood which Doyle did at the end of the season, as his legs have gone defensively. 

We also need a McAtee type player to help Ndiaye create chances and, most importantly – like the majority of promoted clubs – a 15 goal striker to keep us up, but it all depends on ownership and budget.” – FPL Blade

Our contributors also offered a bit of insight into who is in danger of losing their place in the starting XI.

“Oli Norwood had a brilliant half-season in midfield, then tailed off and was replaced by Doyle – I’d expect Norwood to be a rotation player at most this season, although he might feature early on while signings arrive / bed in.

Max Lowe started a lot of games at left wing-back last season but will almost certainly drop out when Norrington-Davies returns to fitness, which will hopefully be in time for the start of the season.” – Ben Meakin, BladesPod

“Like I said above Wes Foderingam, Jack Robinson and Oliver Norwood – who already got replaced at the end of the season. I also think Max Lowe will lose his LWB spot to Reece Norrington-Davies who will be back from injury. And McBurnie likely becomes second-choice striker if we get someone better in.” – FPL Blade

So, it probably won’t be an easy window for Sheff Utd, and it might take a while for the squad to take shape.


Our huge thanks go to Ben Meakin and Ben ‘Tommo’ Thompson for their time and insight.


Haaland Foden


52 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Philosopher's Stones
    • 3 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    Relegation?

  2. coriswrasse
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 13 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    Promotion?

  3. Shark Team
    • 6 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    The only thing I care about is Haaland being priced 14m next season

    1. FPL Pillars
      • 7 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      Haaland price reveal: 13million

      1. FPL Pillars
        • 7 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        Probably

    2. OverTinker
      • 5 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      14.5

    3. WVA
      • 7 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      Everyone will still have the same team

    4. Drop Dead Tsimikas
      • 12 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      If he is 2 or more million more expensive than Kane, I might just go that route instead. Yes, 'arry played in every match and Haaland missed three, but he still only scored NINE fewer points than a record book-rewriting phenom. Even if that nine becomes twenty-nine, it's still close enough to make a difference and leave one enough budget for a Salah instead of a KdB/Son.

      1. Dthinger
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • 7 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        Shouldn't Salah's price be a bit lower next season?

  4. CroatianHammer
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 8 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    European final #1 tonight. No skin in the game really. Seville, former home to Kanouté, or Roma, and I read that Tammy is up for 3 in a row - which would be nice for the fella.

    1. Piggs Boson
      • 12 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      I'm a Jose fan so I want Roma to win for him. I want to see him cry.

      1. Philosopher's Stones
        • 3 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        I also want to see him cry, but not for winning.

      2. Marvin of all he surveys
        • 7 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        I'd like to see Jose win it too. I've always felt a bit sorry for him after his ego took such a kicking.

        1. Piggs Boson
          • 12 Years
          12 months, 1 day ago

          Anyone that loves dogs is a good person in my eyes.

          The Spanish clubs have dominated Europe for too long. Time for them to step aside.

  5. FPL Virgin
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 7 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    Yyyesss! Let's have it.

    Now the new FPL season officially begins.

    The newly promoted articles are so important, I refer back to them several times during the season.

    1. Arteta
      • 8 Years
      12 months, 23 hours ago

      😀

  6. FPL Virgin
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 7 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    Great. Like we haven't got enough liars in the premier league with Cooper and Howe and now we have Heckingbottom. 😡

    1. FPL Virgin
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 7 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      “He is the most vague manager ever when it comes to injury news. He loves to say players are back on the grass all the time and then we still don’t see them for three months. He keeps his cards close to his chest and I don’t tend to listen to what he says in press conferences.”

      Me and Hairybottom are not going to get along. 😡

    2. Piggs Boson
      • 12 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      Not a team I'm looking to buy players from anyway.

      I like to avoid promoted teams unless they look special like Fulham did last season. Look forward to the Burnley article...

      Kompany looks to be an interesting manager, like Arteta, and Xavi. The Pep touch...

      1. FPL Virgin
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • 7 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        Tom Freeman always starts the season with a cheap promoted striker and usually gets off to a flyer. He jumped on Bamford early during his breakout season, for instance.

        1. Piggs Boson
          • 12 Years
          12 months, 1 day ago

          Promoted sides do tend to start well. I should probably be more open minded to it.

          But the price and fixtures will have to be right. Not that there are easy fixtures in this league. It's getting tougher every year...

      2. Piggs Boson
        • 12 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        Mind you, had a quick glance at Burnley goals/assists last season and no one player is dominant. Tella did okay but was on loan. Signings might be key with them...

        Ndiaye from Sheffield sounds good but Prem is gonna be tough for them imo. The standard is so high.

        1. Andy_Social
          • 11 Years
          12 months, 1 day ago

          Rhian Brewster's still there!!!

          Having consistently failed to jump on the Lundstram bandwagon when it had its day, I don't think I've ever had success with a Blades asset. It'll be a big swerve from me.

  7. DBW - Slug's Mortgage …
    • 3 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    Dybala there it is. Jose wins Europa League.

    Is that 2 UCL and 3 Europa? Not counting super cups etc

    1. Piggs Boson
      • 12 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      Dude has never lost a final. Probably the best tournament manager out there. Just not proactive enough to dominate leagues like Pep.

      Long way to go for Roma, but hard to beat a Jose team once they get their nose in front...

      1. DBW - Slug's Mortgage …
        • 3 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        Sevilla goal. Dammit

        1. Piggs Boson
          • 12 Years
          12 months, 1 day ago

          Yeah. Thought Patricio had saved it at first 🙁

  8. Snake Juice
    • 7 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    Mount's agreed to join United

    1. Piggs Boson
      • 12 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      Excellent 🙂

      Fantastic player off the ball. Constantly attacking space and stretching opponents. When out of possession he's a top presser. Ten Hag kind of player. I assume he'll be an 8 in a 433 alongside Bruno.

      "When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball 3 minutes on average … So, the most important thing is: what do you do during those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball? That is what determines whether you’re a good player or not." - Cruyff

      1. Hooky
        • 9 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        Was that Jordi Cruyff that said that? He was definitely better when he didn't have the ball

        1. Piggs Boson
          • 12 Years
          12 months, 1 day ago

          😆

          No. There's Jordi Cruyff, and then there's Cruyff.

          I love his quotes.

          "I always threw the ball in, because then if I got the ball back, I was the only player unmarked."

          Footballing genius.

          1. Andy_Social
            • 11 Years
            12 months, 1 day ago

            Source? Would Mount not get in the way of Bruno?
            I suppose he could supplant Eriksen, but he'd have to stay in that deeper role.

  9. Piggs Boson
    • 12 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    Sevilla are so annoying. Real Madrid of the Europa League. So good at winning it.

  10. The Knights Template
    • 10 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    I'm not sure you could say Rhian Brewster is properly bearded. Dearth of bearded options at Sheffield Utd I'm afraid.

    1. Nanook
      • 2 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      McBurnie one to watch. Redbeard with the low socks. Not afraid of a foul either. Makes him even more old school masculine:)

      1. The Knights Template
        • 10 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        Cheers, may make mine bench!

    2. Fulchester's New Centr…
      • 6 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      Jack Cork - not actually bearded or a Sheff Utd player, but in recognition of the great work done by his dad for both those causes.

      Cork Jr also has middle name Porteous which makes his parents worthy of even greater respect.

      1. The Knights Template
        • 10 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        As Tubbs Tattsyrup always says ‘We didn’t Buuuurrrrnnley!’

  11. CroatianHammer
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 8 Years
    12 months, 1 day ago

    So, Mount to United. Kane probably too. Definitely upgrades, but does it get them in the mixer?

    1. Nanook
      • 2 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      Mount helps and Kane would absolutely help. They were short on goals this year. Not surprising given how Weghorst and Martial were their options the 2nd half. Just awful. Kane’s style would suit as he could drop in with Rashford running in behind a la Son and/or playing out front with Bruno/Erikson/Shaw/Dalot feeding him. I think Kane’s a great fit for both sides. That mixer should be 6 teams (City, Pool, ManU, Arsenal, Newcastle, and Chelsea w Poch sorting them . . . as long as Boehly stands aside).

      1. Andy_Social
        • 11 Years
        12 months, 1 day ago

        Yeah, I think it would, although they need that Kim or another 3rd centreback to cover Varane, and a better keeper would help a lot too. I also think to afford Kane, they'll need to offload a lot of fringe and young players, giving them an awesome First XI but perilously thin squad, meaning they'd need luck with injuries to properly compete.

    2. Fulchester's New Centr…
      • 6 Years
      12 months, 1 day ago

      Harry big and strong and decent with his head, Mountie able to to lump it in. Excellent for putting it into the mixer.

    3. Arteta
      • 8 Years
      12 months, 23 hours ago

      In the mix for the title? Not yet. Kane and Mount would be very good signings, but they are still a few players short.

    4. Zimo
      • 5 Years
      12 months, 21 hours ago

      Kane might not go anywhere this year and leave for free next year. Levy is a tyrant.

      1. Andy_Social
        • 11 Years
        12 months, 20 hours ago

        Harry's been stuck at Spuds too long. Damn his idiot brother not including a minimum release clause in his contract. He's ageing; if he joined a new club now, he'd be good for a 3-year contract. Next year clubs might baulk at that even if he does join for free (+ joining fee).
        This summer, he could be appealing to United and Poch's Chelsea. If they fill their vacancies with another striker and Haaland's still going strong at City (and Harry won't go to Arsenal) he might be short of options. Newcastle?

  12. THE SHEEP HUNTERS
    • 6 Years
    12 months, 22 hours ago

    The Sheephunters Whiskey Challenge Result.

    Congratulations to Bobby Digital who was our runaway winner of the inaugural running of the Sheephunters Whiskey Challenge head to head tournament

    1st Shaolin Soccer__Bobby Digital 77
    2nd Rambo FC__Joe Ramsden 72
    3rd Stranger Ings__Nihad Andeliga 71

    Also a big shout out to our 4th placed competitor David dunts1 with his team Pienaar Colada who finished the season with a rank of 2841.

    Subject to our investigation team verifying there was no skulduggery involved; the prize winner will receive his prize within the month.......as soon as I've replaced the Whiskey that I've consumed yet again! 🙂

    Please make yourself known here Bobby and I will give you an E-mail so we can arrange for your well earned prize to be delivered.

    Thanks to all that took part in the competition and we hope you will all come back next year.

    1. The Knights Template
      • 10 Years
      12 months, 21 hours ago

      I would like to join this tourney next season if possible.