Tony Cascarino thinks that Phil Jagielka has played an important role for Sheffield United and their impressive defensive record this season.
With nine games left to go for most teams (ten for the Blades) Chris Wilder’s side have the second best defence in the Premier League.
Only leaders Liverpool have conceded fewer than their 25 goals in 2019/20. Only the Reds and Burnley have kept more than their ten clean sheets.
With only five teams (all of which are in the bottom half) having scored fewer than United this term, it is this solidity at the back that the Blades have built their success on.
Heading into this weekend’s trip to Newcastle United they are in the European qualification places in seventh. Fourth-placed Chelsea and the Champions League spots are five points ahead.
Why Jagielka has been so important for Sheffield United
Aside from the system and tactics, part of this success is down to consistency. Their three-man central defence of Chris Basham, John Egan and Jack O’Connell have almost played every minute of league action this campaign.
The only exception is Egan missing the 3-3 draw with Manchester United due to injury. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson has also only been absent for one game (also against Man United as he couldn’t play against his parent club).
Wing-backs George Baldock and Enda Stevens have been present for every minute as well. They all contribute to the defensive record, but it is the centre-backs that Cascarino believes have benefited most from Jagielka.
The 37-year-old, who rejoined the Blades from Everton last summer, has started just one league match – replacing Egan against the Red Devils. Yet his presence is far more important than his appearances, according to Cascarino – who saw it first hand when visiting training.
“He (Wilder) bought Phil Jagielka for a reason,” the pundit said on talkSPORT. “Because O’Connell, you look at Basham, Egan, they’re all relatively new to the Premier League.
“He wanted a guy with huge experience, who’d played in the Premier League for a long time, that would help them.
“And it won’t be by him playing because Phil Jagielka’s not played very much. But he’s been part of that squad, he’s in the training sessions and he’s setting the standard.”
Basham was in fact the only one of the trio with any top flight experience before this season. The 31-year-old played 21 times for Bolton Wanderers in the division between 2008 and 2011.
Cascarino could well have a point. Both Wilder and Jagielka himself have previously spoken of the defender’s influence behind the scenes.
Perhaps a coaching role could beckon in the future?