Sheffield United defender Enda Stevens is one of the big success stories of Chris Wilder’s time at the club.
United signed the Irishman back in 2017 on a free transfer (BBC). A popular player at Portsmouth, Stevens was tipped to go on and have a good career. Few could picture just how good he could become.
Stevens was coming into the team as a direct replacement for Daniel Lafferty. The more experienced Lafferty had steadily helped United into the Championship.
But Chris Wilder clearly knew what he was doing, again.
As ever, Wilder isn’t content with resting on his laurels. Improvement and progression is the name of the game for the Blades gaffer. Stevens ticks both of those boxes.
It’s not unreasonable to say that Stevens divided opinion during his first few months at Bramall Lane. There were question marks raised over his final ball and ability to defend as well as Lafferty did.
Wilder, however, trusted in his man. 45 appearances in his first year cemented Stevens as a mainstay of Wilder’s first XI. A solitary goal and four assists showed Stevens had it in the locker. Playing in Wilder’s expansive 3-5-2 formation is no easy task, but Stevens grew as that season progressed.
He spent a full pre-season with United before the 2018/19 campaign kicked off. From the get-go, it was clear Stevens had put the work in over the summer.
Gone was the nervous left wing-back trying to prove himself in the Championship. United now had a fully-fledged international who was integral to their system.
And the stats proved it as United succeeded in the Championship. Four crucial goals and six assists (Whoscored) marked Stevens out as one of the best players in his position in the league.
Premier League class
It’s widely accepted that Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson is the best left-back in the league. The likes of Benjamin Mendy at Man City and Ben Chilwell at Leicester, are not far behind.
But Enda Stevens is not too far behind these players. There’s a case to be made as a pure wing-back that he’s number one.
A quick glance at the stats shows just how good Stevens is in comparison.
Aside from having more clean-sheets and conceding less goals than Robertson, Stevens stands up well in other categories. 23 tackles and 15 of those won puts him above the Liverpool man. He’s also completed more headed clearances and won more aerial duels.
Liverpool are European champions. They are expected to create and score goals. It’s no surprise, then, to see Robertson with a goal and three assists to his name already. Stevens, though, is doing the business himself. He’s yet to hit the target but has already set two up himself.
It’s perhaps unfair to look at Mendy, given his injuries this term. Leicester’s Ben Chilwell, however, is the England left-back and in the form of his life.
It’s a credit to Stevens, then, that he ranks above the Leicester man in key defensive stats. Interceptions, tackles won, and crosses into the box, all see Stevens ahead.
Of course, there’s an argument to made against just looking at stats on a basic level. They don’t always tell the whole story.
Stevens was superb yet again yesterday as the Blades saw off Burnley. He’s quickly become ‘Mr Consistent’ and is having his own competition when it comes to ‘nutmegging’ opponents.
Chilwell, Robertson, Mendy, and even Danny Rose at Spurs are top quality footballers.
The fact that we are sat comparing Enda Stevens, a free transfer from Portsmouth just two seasons back, to these established Premier League players, is a mark of just how far Sheffield United have come.