Let’s be completely honest when it comes to Morgan Gibbs-White and Iliman Ndiaye and say since they tore Peterborough apart in September, Sheffield United haven’t seen anywhere near that level of performance again.
Sure, in fleeting moments, both players have contributed to the cause. Ndiaye scored a stunning solo winner at Fulham, while Gibbs-White had featured heavily in the final third before he picked up an injury as the new year came in. But in recent games, the pair have not quite given what Sheffield United and Paul Heckingbottom need to ensure the Blades playoff charge continues.
Last night was a prime example of both players struggling. Ndiaye, in particular, couldn’t get into the game at all and he was hooked before 70 minutes for Billy Sharp. Gibbs-White, meanwhile, toiled and busied about but ultimately, wasn’t anywhere near his best.
And frankly, that needs to change if Sheffield United are going to make the top six.
Being clear, this is in no way a criticism of Gibbs-White and Ndiaye. Far from it. In fact, your writer here would go as far to say the pair are the two most exciting players he’s seen at Bramall Lane in over a decade. This opinion and train of thought comes more from frustration and a knowing of the quality the pair possess.
On his day, Morgan Gibbs-White is the best attacking midfield player in the Championship. Goals, assists, tricks, flicks, the lot. The Wolves loanee is the real deal. Likewise, Ndiaye is one of – if not the – finest product of the youth academy in some time. But that is why Sheffield United needs them firing.
With Ndiaye, he seems to have run out of steam a tad. In two home games running, he’s hit the keeper when clean through on goal. Both are chances he should have taken, and both probably would have been taken when he was flying earlier in the campaign.
Against Hull, Ndiaye barely featured other than that chance. The youngster had a team low 34 touches as well as a team low 73% pass completion rate, per WhoScored. He also registered just the two shots. Far from ideal for the player many expect to produce the moment of magic the Blades so often need in the final third.
Stick Or Twist
The conundrum facing Paul Heckingbottom now is a tricky one. Does he simply bring Billy Sharp back in and play both Ndiaye and Gibbs-White off his talisman? That was the plan with McBurnie last night, and to an extent, it worked.
But, with McBurnie clearly hungry for goals himself, does Heckingbottom now give the big striker a run of games alongside Sharp, with Gibbs-White or Ndiaye in the number ten role? Based on the overall performances this term, you’d have to say Gibbs-White would get the nod in that position.
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Of course, we’d love nothing more than to see the real Gibbs-White and Ndiaye tearing teams apart. Both are more than capable, and both are fantastic players. However, this Blades side needs more from them both in order to ensure a top six push is really on the cards.
Ultimately, they are both that good that any team, not just Sheffield United, would dip if they weren’t producing.
Let’s hope this weekend’s clash with Swansea, then, can be the big turning point.