Sheffield United v Arsenal: Why Paul Heckingbottom is not frightened to do it his way

SO FAR he has stuck to the Chris Wilder blueprint, but interim manager Paul Heckingbottom insists he is not afraid to rip it up if needs be, and that no one in the Sheffield United hierarchy would stop him.

The Blades welcome Arsenal for tomorrow’s Premier League game on the back of seven defeats in their last eight games, the last three of which Heckingbottom has been in charge for.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and the Blades have played 3-5-2 all season, even if the shape has often been different by full-time, but this is a squad constructed to play that way.

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Heckingbottom says doing something else has crossed his mind.

HIS OWN MAN: Sheffield United interim manager Paul Heckingbottom says he has free rein to manage as he sees fit. Picture: Andrew Yates/Sportimage

“The Chelsea game (in the FA Cup quarter-finals) we lost a lot of players and key people at key moments and it almost forced us to make big changes but the only reason we didn’t was because we didn’t have a single minute to prepare for changes in shape (losing centre-back Chris Basham to injury the day before),” he explained.

“We’re not scared to do it. We’ve done it within games and did it to decent effect against Leeds but we couldn’t capitalise when we were doing well.

“But we also understand this squad has had a lot of success playing a certain way and has been recruited that way so we don’t want to be putting square pegs in round holes.

“When you’re coming in mid-season it’s always difficult in terms of changing personnel, ins and outs, I’m not going to do it, that’s not in my remit.

CHANCE: Paul Heckingbottom gave Illiman Ndiaye a debut from the bench against Leicester City. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“One of the biggest things is just steadying the ship, getting a good feel around the place and moving forwards.

“My hands aren’t tied in any way except for the numbers of players available in certain positions.”

Another area where change is possible is trying new players, and as under-23 manager Heckingbottom knows what is available.

He gave Iliman Ndiaye a debut from the bench in his first game in charge, at Leicester City, though he and his cohort have not featured since. Heckingbottom has hinted they could.

“We’ve had a lot more training with them in the weeks I’ve been doing it making sure they’ve been familiar but our hands have really been tied this season with the covid restrictions,” he pointed out. “We’ve been totally separate bubbles.

“As restrictions are easing and we become more and more accustomed to managing the testing period we’ve been able to create a better pathway.

“It would be unfair to the players, both the ones starting now and also the under-23s, just to throw them in for the sake of it.

“I’ve seen careers damaged off the back of it.

“Sometimes it’s the wrong thing to throw players in but they’re gaining experience every day training with the first team and seeing the boys who’ve made their debuts they’re seeing the pathway and they’re ready to go whether it’s next season or next.”

George Baldock and Jayden Bogle have returned to training after following concussion protocols but Basham and Billy Sharp are not yet fit. The hope is that Sander Berge will be back in training next week, having not played since December.

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