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Opposition Lowdown: Paul Heckingbottom’s Sheffield United

Top-of-the-league Reading take on second-placed Sheffield United at Bramall Lane this Tuesday. Join us as we take a look at the opposition.

Sheffield United v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by George Wood/Getty Images


Sheffield United finished in 5th place in the Championship last season, securing a play-off spot. However, they failed to make it to the final, losing to Nottingham Forest on penalties after a 3-3 aggregate draw in the semi finals.

The Blades have had a strong start to the season, sitting in second place, having won three of their six games so far, while drawing twice and losing once. Those three wins have come at home at Bramall Lane, beating Millwall, Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers. United are unbeaten in their last five league games, with their last match finishing 1-1 away to Luton Town on Friday night.

Last season’s match-ups included a 0-1 victory for United at the Select Car Leasing Stadium in November, before The Royals claimed a memorable 1-2 victory up at Bramall Lane in April with Tom McIntyre scoring a 92nd-minute winner.

The boss

Paul Heckingbottom: Heckingbottom became Sheffield United manager in November 2021, taking over from Slavisa Jokanovic, who was sacked after The Blades’ 0-1 victory against Reading, with the club sitting 16th in the table. Heckingbottom was a familiar face around Sheffield, having previously managed United’s under-23 side, whilst also serving as caretaker manager when Chris Wilder left The Blades with the side sitting bottom of the Premier League in March 2021.

Sheffield United v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mick Walker - CameraSport via Getty Images

Heckingbottom started his managerial career at Barnsley in 2016, leading the Tykes back to the Championship before a four-month spell managing Leeds United, followed by nine-month spell in charge of Scottish Premier League side Hibernian.

Heckingbottom has signed a long-term deal with United, with the board praising his leadership qualities, technical football skills and focus on player development.


United’s largest transfer deal of the summer has been Bosnian centre back Anel Ahmedhodzic joining from Swedish side Malmo for an undisclosed fee. They have utilised the loan market well, signing defender Ciaran Clark and attacker Reda Khadra from Newcastle United and Brighton and Hove Albion respectively, while also bringing in midfielders Tommy Doyle and James McAtee on loan from Manchester City.

Forwards David McGoldrick, Lys Mousset and midfielder Luke Freeman all left United this summer following the end of their contracts with The Blades. Oliver Burke also left United to join Werder Bremen, whilst their Player of the Year Morgan Gibbs-White returned to parent club Wolves, prior to his big-money move to Nottingham Forest this summer.

Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham and defender Rhys Norrington-Davies will both be fit to start Tuesday’s game, recovering from a virus and a dead leg respectively. John Fleck will play no part as he recovers from a leg fracture, whilst Championship veteran Billy Sharp is also out with an ankle injury.

Expected line-up

Foderingham, Basham, Ahmedhodzic, Egan, Lowe, Baldock, Berge, McAtee, Norwood, McBurnie, Ndiaye

Reading FC v Sheffield United - FA Cup Fifth Round
Sander Berge in FA Cup action at the Mad Stad in March 2020
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Key player

Sander Berge: Norwegian centre midfielder Berge signed for United from Belgian side Genk in January 2020, becoming the Blades’ record signing. The 6ft5 midfielder has gone on to make 73 appearances for United, scoring 10 goals. Berge is also a senior Norwegian international who has made 30 appearances for his country since making his debut in March 2017.

He cuts a calm and composed figure in the centre of the park and is extremely comfortable on the ball. Berge is rumoured to be a surprise transfer target for Liverpool, who are reportedly keen to bolster their midfield prior to this Thursday’s transfer deadline.

One to watch

James McAtee: Midfielder McAtee joined United on a season-long loan from Manchester City at the start of August. The 19-year-old City academy graduate made his debut for Pep Guardiola’s side in last season’s EFL Cup win against Wycombe Wanderers. He has also made appearances for the England under-18s, under-20s and under-21s. Whilst playing for City’s youth team, McAtee has been likened to City legend David Silva, possessing great mobility and an eye for a pass in the centre of the park.