Despite a winless run of four games in all competitions following the restart of English football last month, only the harshest of critics would consider Sheffield United’s season anything other than a spectacular success.
The Blades sit eighth in the Premier League table after a outstanding debut campaign back in the top flight, when the vast majority of pre-season predictions forecast an immediate return to the Championship for Chris Wilder’s men.
Last week’s 3-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur was a timely reminder of the Sheffield United team’s qualities – they are a defensively resolute side built on solid foundations.
The Blades have only conceded 33 goals all season. To put that into context, high-flyers Leicester City have a record of 31 goals against, while heavyweights Manchester City and Manchester United have let in 34 and 33 goals respectively. When you consider Wilder’s outfit have been put together for a fraction of the cost of those teams, it’s testament to the club’s smart recruitment and impressive coaching.
But if there’s one criticism that can be levelled at the Blades it’s the somewhat blunt nature of their attack – only Crystal Palace, Watford, Bournemouth and Norwich City have scored less than United so far this season.
It’s therefore unsurprising the club will be looking to add creativity to their ranks in the summer, with reports suggesting they are set to launch a £3.5million bid for Reading’s midfield creator John Swift.
The 25-year-old is one of the Championship’s top talents and his signing would fit with Wilder’s tendency to focus on the domestic market when it comes to the vast majority of his transfers.
After making just a solitary league appearance as a youngster at Chelsea, Swift’s quality began to become apparent during a loan spell at Brentford where he hit seven goals during a 28-game stint at Griffin Park. That alerted Reading to his availability his move to the Madejski Stadium has been a successful one for both parties.
Swift has played 145 games in the blue and white hoops to date, scoring 20 times. But a closer look into his performances this season shows why there’s far more to the midfielder’s game than simply the number of goals he scores.
For starters, Swift’s record of ten assists in 2019/20 works out at 0.3 per 90 – the 12th most of any player in this season’s Championship. That perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider just how many chances the box-to-box midfielder creates. He is averaging 2.51 chances created per 90, only bettered by six of his peers in English football’s second tier.
They are extraordinary numbers when you factor in that the England Under-21 international isn’t one of Reading’s most advanced midfielders and contributes defensively as well as simply when the team is attacking. His ball-winning ability in the centre of the park is particularly notable, winning back possession in the middle third of the pitch a commendable 3.96 times per 90.
Swift therefore regularly finds himself on the ball (75.05 touches per 90), distributing it carefully and accurately. That’s not to suggest he is cautious when in possession though. Quite the opposite in fact. One of the playmaker’s most impressive attributes is the accuracy of his long balls, with a success rate of 63.54 per cent putting him inside the league’s top 25 players.
The Portsmouth-born midfield maestro is contracted at the Madejski Stadium until 2022. In theory, there is no pressure on Reading to sell one of their most prized assets. But there have been suggestions that the financial pressure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could encourage Mark Bowen’s men to cash in on him this summer.
If that’s the case, Sheffield United look ready to pounce and the Royals’ loss will undoubtedly be their gain. After four years in Berkshire, it feels like the right time for Swift to try his luck in the Premier League once more. Wilder’s upwardly mobile Blades and Reading’s star man could be the perfect fit.