Luke Freeman proved during the midweek FA Cup win at Reading that he is ready to start for Sheffield United this weekend.
Freeman was brought back into the starting lineup by Chris Wilder for what was his first appearance since January 25. He last played when the Blades beat Millwall in the previous round.
A club record signing when he joined from QPR in the summer, the midfielder has struggled for game time during his first season at Bramall Lane.
Freeman started three of their first four Premier League matches, coming off the bench in the other. Yet the 27-year-old has started just once more in the league since then, playing a total of 82 minutes during that time.
John Lundstram and January signing Sander Berge have been preferred in Wilder’s midfield three. But perhaps the home clash with Norwich City this weekend represents the perfect time to bring Freeman back into the fold.
Why Freeman could be the ideal choice against Norwich
At the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday evening, the Arsenal academy graduate was one of the few positives on a tricky night for United.
They may have won the fifth round match 2-1, but their performance was below the standards fans have come to expect this term.
That said, Freeman was a bright spark in the middle. His technical ability is superb and he has a natural attacking impetus that pushes him forwards.
Wilder has largely stuck with a 3-5-2 formation in 2019/20, to great effect. Yet when opponents are compact and defensive that system can struggle to break them down. This was seen in the Blades’ last Premier League outing – a 1-1 home draw with Brighton and Hove Albion.
Wilder achieved promotion from the Championship last season with a slight tweak on his formation, playing 3-4-1-2. That number ten behind the strikers was the man tasked with unlocking deep defences.
Freeman is arguably the best option in the squad to play that role.
Changing up the norm
There are also question marks currently over who should be the third midfielder. John Fleck and Oliver Norwood have been superb this term and both should return against Norwich. But the third slot is less clear.
Lundstram has been far less effective since Christmas in comparison to his early season form. The 25-year-old has actually been best as an impact sub – coming off the bench to score the winner against Bournemouth recently.
Berge has shown glimpses of his talent but is young and will take time to settle following his January move. Also, the 21-year-old is a more defensively-minded player.
United are no longer viewed as relegation candidates. Teams in the lower reaches of the table will view a point against them as a good result. Therefore, they can afford to be a little more attacking with their midfield selection.