Why 'magician' David McGoldrick is so important to Sheffield United - even without any goals

David McGoldrick has been a key figure for Sheffield United this season, despite VAR chalking off what would have been his first club goal of it at the weekend
David McGoldrick has been a key figure for Sheffield United this season, despite VAR chalking off what would have been his first club goal of it at the weekend
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Sheffield United's whole way of playing is based on runners from deep. Whether it be wing-backs George Baldock and Enda Stevens, much feted centre-backs Chris Basham and Jack O'Connell, or central midfielders John Fleck and John Lundstram, there is always someone coming at you.

Lundstram (twice) and Fleck scored the goals which beat Burnley and when the former hit the post at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it needed a goal from Baldock to earn a point.

WhoScored.com's Heatmaps from Saturday show how Harry Kane (left) and David McGoldrick (right) did different jobs for their teams

WhoScored.com's Heatmaps from Saturday show how Harry Kane (left) and David McGoldrick (right) did different jobs for their teams

But the Blades can only play that way with an unselfish centre-forward who can hold the ball up and allow those players to get up the field and join in the play. That is why David McGoldrick, their non-scoring centre-forward, is such a crucial part of their play. No wonder Chris Wilder called the 31-year-old Republic of Ireland international a magician at the weekend.

“How people can question David, I thought he was a magician out there on Saturday,” said the Blades manager. “His work on and off the ball, he caused some really big players some really big problems.

“I thought (Lys) Mousset was brilliant too. He was disappointed not to score because he deserved one as well with that performance.”

While Mousset, Oli McBurnie, Callum Robinson and Billy Sharp have all got off the mark this season, McGoldrick is Wilder's first-choice centre-forward this term, making eight Premier League starts.

David McGoldrick (blue) had nearly twice as many touches as Harry Kane (red) on Saturday according to WhoScored.com - and they were far more spread out

David McGoldrick (blue) had nearly twice as many touches as Harry Kane (red) on Saturday according to WhoScored.com - and they were far more spread out

It looked like he had scored his first goal since Easter at the weekend, only for his finish at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, only for video assistant referee Jon Moss to spot that Lundstram was fractionally offside in the build-up.

It is inevitable that centre-forwards are judged on goals, and those who do not see the Blades regularly cannot be expected to fully understand McGoldrick's contribution. He even only has one assist because his most important work tends to come earlier in moves.

Saturday saw McGoldrick come up against Harry Kane, England's best goalscorer. The contrast between them was telling.

Kane's job is not to build up moves, it is to finish them. He touched the ball 28 times on Saturday. McGoldrick did it nearly twice as often, with 52.

Most of Kane's touches were pushing up against the penalty area. McGoldrick's were slightly deeper, between the centre-circle and the D of the 18-yard box.

The England captain's touches are much more concentrated around the centre of the field, McGoldrick's more concentrated. Kane occasionally drifted out to the left touchline, but McGoldrick saw plenty of the ball on both wings deep in Tottenham's half.

Although he scored for Ireland against Switzerland in September, a first club goal of 2019-20 would go a long way for McGoldrick, but at least he knows Wilder sees the bigger picture.

“He is special, David,” said the manager. “He wants to score, centre-forwards do. I just hope people recognise the part he plays in a team performance.

“Individuals shine and get plaudits but I thought it was a team performance right the way through on Saturday.”

Beyond Sheffield, McGoldrick is not getting the plaudits he deserves at the moment. The longer his team's five-match unbeaten Premier League run continues, the less he should care.