Sheffield United – Match Report vs. Sunderland (15/03/2023)

Promotion chasing Sheffield United travelled to the Stadium of Light to face a Sunderland side who had only taken 4 points from their last 5 league games in the Championship. Paul Heckingbottom set up The Blades in his usual 3-5-2 formation to provide some defensive solidarity whilst allowing United to build attacks through both transition and possession play. Tony Mowbray utilised a 4-2-3-1 formation allowing Sunderland’s tricky pair of wingers the ability to play closer to goal.

The Black Cats managed to grab the lead against the run of play midway through the first half, only to have Manchester City loanees James McAtee and Tommy Doyle score for Sheffield United either side of the halftime break. Following Doyle’s goal, Sunderland managed to improve with chances for equalisers from both Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts but The Blades were able to see out the remainder of the game in a professional manner to remain in the automatic promotion spots to the Premier League.



A1 – Very good, could play higher

A2 – Strong potential to play higher

B1 – Good, strong player at level

B2 – Potential to be strong player at level

C – Average for the level, re-watch

D – Below average in this match

Tommy Doyle

Player profile:

  • Nationality: English
  • Age: 21
  • Date of birth: 17/10/2001
  • Current club: Sheffield United
  • Career: Manchester City
  • Position: Central Midfield
  • Preferred foot: Right

Doyle had an eventful game while being deployed as a deeper midfielder against Sunderland, sitting between the defensive and midfield lines to set up attacks and win back possession. He displayed a sense of positional intelligence beyond his years whilst Sheffield United were in possession, consistently making himself available to receive the ball and recycle possession effectively. This is typified by the fact that Doyle rarely takes additional touches, keeping a high tempo to the game allowing for quicker side to side movement. However, his defensive positioning requires quicker decision making, something he should gain with experience. The Sunderland goal came from Doyle pressing higher up the pitch than his fellow midfielders, leaving a gap which was exploited via triangular passing.

Doyle showcased his high levels of technique that were developed during his years at Manchester City’s academy with a half volley from the edge of the area which was heading on target if not for a block by a Sunderland defender. Whilst being a fantastic striker of the ball, Doyle’s long-range passing was a little wayward as it has been for the whole season. This is an area of the game that he must improve upon if he is to continue playing in a deeper role. Whilst the accuracy was not always perfect, Doyle’s ability to spot open runners from a distance is a skill that will surely translate to the top division of English football. The vast majority of his set pieces were well taken too, with a goal coming from a wide free-kick which evaded all players on the pitch and fortunately curled into the Sunderland net for the winning goal.

Doyle was able to play most of the game before being substituted after 78 minutes. From the outside, his fitness levels still looked superb and I believe that Doyle’s levels of fitness would easily allow him to play in the Premier League. He did occasionally look exposed in the air, he is under 6ft tall and does not have a high vertical leap.

Rating – A1

Tommy Doyle displayed an ability to use both feet and a comfort with the ball that is beyond the level of a Championship midfielder. I would like to see him play regularly in the Premier League next season which would inevitably mean a loan or a permanent transfer away from the Etihad. With experience at a higher level, I believe he can continue to grow as both a box to box and a deeper lying midfielder.


James McAtee

Player profile:

  • Nationality: English
  • Age: 20
  • Date of birth: 18/10/2002
  • Current club: Sheffield United
  • Career: Manchester City
  • Position: Central Midfield
  • Preferred foot: Left

James McAtee had a brilliant game until being taken off by Paul Heckingbottom for the more experienced John Fleck. He was clearly the best player on the pitch, displaying a flair which opened up the Sunderland defence numerous times. Showing a strength beyond his slight frame, McAtee was able to ride several physical challenges from the Sunderland defenders especially when attacking down the left channel, creating more space for attacking runs from his teammates. He was a consistent threat on the counter with his willingness to directly run at defenders which commits them and provides off the ball runners with space in behind. His speed of thought and passing ability often leads to the correct through ball being picked, as was the case for a number of spurned chances for Sheffield United. This level of link up play could translate to the highest level of football but on occasion, McAtee overhit some through balls which led to chances having to be taken from a narrower angle.

Defensively, McAtee was a thorn in Sunderland’s side, often winning the ball back from The Black Cats in the attacking third creating high yield attacking plays for Heckinbottom’s side. His tenaciousness to win the ball back was reminiscent of that seen from Guardiola sides, perhaps something he has developed whilst working with the Spanish genius. He does commit one too many fouls but that could be down to a mixture of his youthful exuberance and poor timing in the tackle.

The young Englishman displayed great control over his body, twisting and turning whilst maintaining close control of the ball on many occasions leading to him winning several free kicks in dangerous areas whilst also allowing him time to pick a cross or a pass. He also showed the ability to control his speed, something which was particularly pertinent to his equalising goal against Sunderland. His sudden deceleration created the space between himself and the defender to score a wonderfully guided finish. However his reliance on his left foot can sometimes lead to defenders being able to anticipate his next move.

Rating – A2

James McAtee has all the technical ability to succeed in the Premier League but currently I think he lacks the consistency from game to game to be a regular in a top half side. I would not be surprised to see him have another loan spell at a Championship club next season to continue his development into a potential Premier League attacking midfielder.


Anel Ahmedhodzic

Player profile:

  • Nationality: Bosnian
  • Age: 24
  • Date of birth: 26/03/1999
  • Current club: Sheffield United
  • Career: Nottingham Forest (Y), Malmo FF
  • Position: Centre-Back
  • Preferred foot: Right

A poor error from Ahmedhodzic typified a mixed performance from the Bosnian defender whilst occupying the right sided centre back slot in Sheffield United’s three man defence.

For the most part, Ahmedhodzic displayed good passing skills, especially in the final third where his link up play would often lead to an overload of Sheffield United attackers down the right flank. However, he had a loss of concentration and relinquished possession on the edge of the box that should have led to an equaliser for Sunderland. This error did not stem from applied pressure from the opposition nor does it seem to be a regular occurrence for the young defender so it may be possible to account for this as a one-off mistake.

Defensively, the Swedish-born Bosnian had a tough task against an inspired Jack Clarke down Sunderland’s left wing. Often George Baldock would be caught higher up the pitch, leaving Ahmedhodzic facing Clarke in one on one situations but for the most part he dealt with the challenge well. After The Blades took the lead in the second half, Heckinbottom took a more defensive approach which allowed Ahmedhodzic and the right wingback to operate as more of a team against the threat of Clarke’s direct dribbling. Often it was clear that Ahmedhodzic was organising the right side of defence, clearly pointing to where he wanted certain players to go and identifying danger to his teammates. I was impressed with his levels of communication, something which is required in all top defenders. I believe this helped Sheffield United to see out the attacking resurgence of Sunderland in the second half and close out the game with a win.

For his imposing size, the former Malmo defender should be more assertive in the air. He seemed to not be as big a threat in either box as you would expect from a player who is over 1.90m in height. I think this is something he should work on in the future.

Rating – B1

Anel Ahmedhodzic showed some good touches and off the ball running in the attacking phase of the game while also displaying good leadership and teamwork skills in defence. However, he did require help from teammates to deal with Sunderland’s wingers and also was beaten in the air a few times, something which may indicate that he would be defensively exposed at a higher level.


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