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Sport Sheffield United's 2022-23 prediction: Where Blades will finish, player to watch and top scorer

17:41  30 july  2022
17:41  30 july  2022 Source:   examinerlive.co.uk

Paul Heckingbottom assesses Sheffield United's chances of signing Brighton's Reda Khadra

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Sheffield United get their season under way at Vicarage Road on Monday evening hoping to improve on last year's start. The Blades opened their account with a 1-0 defeat at home to Birmingham back then, but Paul Heckingbottom is looking for a positive result when his side takes to the pitch against Watford.

He could also hand out up to three debuts with Anel Ahmedhodzic, Ciaran Clark and Reda Khadra all in line to feature.

Looking ahead to the new season, here are my Sheffield United predictions for the coming campaign.

League finish

United are a good bet for a top six finish. I was encouraged with the way they ended last season, especially when you consider the injury issues and fixture congestion they had to deal with.

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Players looked to be enjoying that style of play and there was a clear identity about their game under Heckingbottom that was lacking previously. To finish fifth, when the season effectively did not start until November, shows what this group is capable off. A decent first month this time round and I would be expecting United to be in the mix.

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I do think this season will be more difficult and United will need to compete with far more teams at the top end than in 2021-22, but they have recruited wisely and strengthened the squad.

There is credible and genuine competition in every position and not just in terms of back-up options but also in terms of those who can play in multiple positions and give the manager plenty of food for thought when it comes to team selection.

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The only fear, similar to last season, is numbers should another injury crisis take hold.

There is a feel-good factor around the camp, the players are in a good place physically and mentally and I am looking forward to seeing what they can achieve this term.

Leading scorer

Enter Rhian Brewster, your time is nigh.

One of the players I thought was really benefiting from Heckingbottom's arrival was the young striker. Having been messed around previously in a number of positions and a bit-part player, you could clearly see him starting to flourish under the current boss and having worked with striker coach Jack Lester.

The purple patch he was enjoying at the time of his injury was the best we had seen in a red and white shirt and it was no coincidence seeing how he was being used. A more central figure with a lot more chances created in that area and with more crosses into the box from wide positions, we can expect to see more of the same.

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He has looked good in pre-season, scored two goals against Lincoln that were training ground moves from Portugal and he is chomping at the bit to get back to where he was in January when his hamstring had other ideas.

This could be the season where the 22-year-old really shows what he is all about in front of goal.

One to watch

Reda Khadra will get fans on the edge of their seats. The 21-year-old German-born midfielder is an exciting player who loves to run at defenders in one v one situations.

Has great footwork, as Chris Basham can testify having been sent packing with a dummy in the 3-1 defeat at Ewood Park last season when Khadra cut inside and scored the equaliser during his loan spell at Blackburn.

Was among the best players to come up against the Blades last season and looks a real talent. Similar to Morgan Gibbs-White in the way there is a risk and reward scenario, his game is built more on his attacking threat and he has a lot still to learn about his responsibilities off the ball.

Supporters will enjoy his trickery, pace and footwork in the attacking third and they are really looking forward to seeing him in a red and white shirt.

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Best signing

Anel Ahmedhodzic has really impressed since signing for Malmo. There's a lot of belief in this player, which came through in the negotiations to sign him and the patience required to get the deal over the line.

Strong, tall and athletic, the 23-year-old can play as well as defend, as was highlighted with his clever pass for United's opening goal against Barnsley last time out.

Basham has never had competition for his place until now and I would be expecting to see the Bosnian international feature a lot. He could turn out to be an inspired signing.

It could be a big year for ...

Will Osula and Daniel Jebbison. The young duo have benefited from plenty of minutes and action in the summer due to the injuries to Oli McBurnie and Billy Sharp. And they have certainly taken their chance to impress.

Both have been on the scoresheet and assisted one another in the friendlies and they are continuing to go from strength to strength. Heckingbottom says he has no plans at this stage to send either out on loan and is quite relaxed about the prospect of keeping both in and around the squad.

With five subs also being used this season, it gives the manager more options to change things from an attacking point of view late in the game if chasing points. They could both make an impact in this respect and they could well feature in the Championship this season and further enhance their growing reputation.

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Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp has been working hard on the comeback trail © Sheffield United Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp has been working hard on the comeback trail

Don't write off...

Billy Sharp. Who else?

The striker proved age is nothing but a number as he secured the golden boot for yet another season and broke yet more records along the way.

It may be a slow start for the striker this time round due to his lack of game time and minutes in pre-season as he works his way up to speed but once fully fit, expect Sharp to be firing in the goals again.

He loves nothing more than a challenge and he outlined last season, after having his contract extended for a further year, that he is already looking to secure a further spell.

Next academy starlet

Oliver Arblaster will be the next youngster to make his senior debut. The 18-year-old midfielder has been in and around the first team picture in the summer and looks a class act.

The ability to pass with both feet, he is the complete midfielder and both Heckingbottom and Lester are his biggest fans. I would not be surprised to see him rewarded for his progress with minutes on the pitch this season.

Who else will impress?

Tommy Doyle could take fans by surprise. A clever, cultured player, he is comfortable in a number of positions through the middle of the pitch and could be another impressive signing. Yet to see him play due to injury but once back fit, keep an eye out for his quality.

There was no bigger pat on the back than the one Heckingbottom gave Iliman Ndiaye when he revealed after the Mansfield defeat that the forward will be starting against Watford due to the way he's performed in both training and matches. The youngster showed flashes of brilliance last season and he could well reach a more consistent level of performance after a good summer for club and country.

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