Chris Wilder seldom comments on transfer targets, preferring to leave the talking until an agreement has been reached and player has signed on the dotted line.
But an analysis of both potential acquisitions and persons of interest in the past provide plenty of clues about the type of centre-forward Sheffield United’s manager wants to recruit this summer. Or ‘centre-forwards’ to be exact.
Wilder first identified the need for reinforcements midway through last season. A review of the campaign, combining good old fashioned hunches with statistical scrutiny, revealed United’s goal return was low compared to the number of chances created and convinced Wilder to step-up his search.
So what are the qualities he is looking for? How do you strengthen an attack already boasting Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp? The answer, as Wilder’s previous flirtation with Sam Gallagher demonstrates, is by expanding its skill set and introducing a fresh dynamic.
United considered an approach for the Southampton youngster in August, before he joined Birmingham on loan instead. The reason they decided to explore alternative options was finance. Premier League strikers, even those who have made less than 20 top-flight appearances, do not come cheap. Wilder must decide whether to make another offer now his budget has been increased.
Gallagher, aged 22, is tall, technical and experienced at Championship level following spells at Blackburn Rovers, MK Dons and St Andrews. Crucially, he also relishes a physical battle. Clarke does too but duelling with defenders prevents him from utilising his movement, spatial awareness and footballing intelligence.
Sharp, still one of the best finishers in the business, dovetails well with his team mate. But he also enjoyed working with James Hanson during United’s League One title winning campaign. Gallagher, who is more polished than Hanson, could be another perfect foil for Wilder’s captain. Or, if he does look elsewhere, someone like him.
Although Clarke and Sharp cemented their places in United’s squad by scoring a total of 33 goals last term, neither could be described as exceptionally quick. A vacancy also exists for someone with genuine pace.
Filling this would provide Wilder with greater tactical flexibility and help United kick their habit of conceding late. It is doubtful if Cardiff, Bristol City or Aston Villa, who all denied them points at the death last term, would have felt comfortable committing so many men forward during the closing stages if United had a speed merchant at their disposal. Either in the starting eleven or ready to be summoned from the bench.
n Twenty-four hours after Dean Henderson completed his loan move from Manchester United to Bramall Lane, United Ladies have confirmed a goalkeeper as their first signing since being granted FA Women’s Championship status. Fran Kitching has joined Carla Ward’s side from Chelsea.