Nottingham Forest fans are worried about the potential recall of Middlesbrough full-back Djed Spence in January – and they have every right to be after seeing him thrive on the right-hand side this season.
But they should also be worried about another player – and that’s Max Lowe. Like the Spence situation, Sheffield United have the opportunity to bring Lowe back to Bramall Lane during the winter window and Forest manager Steve Cooper may end up being the victim of his own success.
Although the Welshman has been vital in helping the 24-year-old impress at the City Ground this term, being crucial in improving their results after a dire start to the campaign, these performances will be catching the eye of Blades boss Slavisa Jokanovic who has seen his side perform well below expectations during the 2021/22 campaign thus far.
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Many reasons have been listed for the South Yorkshire side’s inability to get going this term, but one justification was particularly interesting.
Some people have argued Jokanovic’s team are better-suited to a back five still after spending recent seasons adopting the 3-5-2 system under predecessor Chris Wilder – a claim the Serbian disagreed with ahead of last weekend’s clash against Blackburn Rovers.
Instead, a 4-2-3-1 has been adopted at Bramall Lane, a tough transition in switching from Wilder’s previous system and especially difficult after failing to sign an orthodox winger during the summer window.
Although United should be performing a lot better considering the resources Jokanovic has at his disposal, leaving the majority of their incoming business until the last minute back in August has proved to be costly and you could argue the 53-year-old’s future may be in real danger if he fails to improve results in the next few games.
If it gets to that stage, a last-ditch attempt to save his job by switching to a back three, despite his previous stubbornness, isn’t out of the question with a lack of natural wingers at his disposal and the Serbian still able to play attractive football with three central defenders.
There might be arguments between which formation suits the Blades best, but the 3-4-1-2 system seems the most obvious choice at this stage.
They have full-backs including Enda Stevens, Jayden Bogle and George Baldock who are all accustomed to playing as wing-backs, Jack Robinson coming back into the fold which will be a boost in central defence and the sufficient depth and quality in the forward department to play two up top.
One man who could help to transition to this formation is Forest loanee Lowe, who has been excellent as a wing-back under Cooper and would certainly push Stevens all the way for his place.
Rhys Norrington-Davies is another man in the mix, but they should send the Welsh international out on loan again like they did last term to secure more first-team minutes.
He hasn’t played enough recently – and Lowe’s potential return could set the 22-year-old free to ply his trade for another Championship side for the remainder of the season.
Not only would this recall benefit Norrington-Davies, but also the Blades as a whole in disarming a potential promotion competitor in Forest of one of their key assets, with Boro potentially doing the same with Spence when January comes around.
But what would United’s lineup look like with Lowe back in the team, key man Sander Berge back fit and the 3-4-1-2 formation adopted? This graphic should give you an idea:
Things seem to have gone a little stale in South Yorkshire after their decline last season – and though the return to a back three feels like a throwback to the Wilder days, the fact they could play new starting wing-backs and give the likes of Berge and Lys Mousset a chance in a new division, providing they can stay fit, makes this team look fresh.
John Egan and Chris Basham are two old faces, but the latter in particular has impressed recently and they deserve to keep their places in the starting lineup.
The central defence is one position they may need to address during the transfer window if they adopt this system, potentially along with the central midfield area, with Conor Hourihane failing to impress and fresh blood potentially required in the middle of the park.
But look at that team, it’s more than good enough to shoot up the table and the return of an in-form Lowe could be the injection of energy they need to change their fortunes.