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5 key players in Sheffield United's promotion campaign

Sheffield United will make a return to the Premier League next season after a two-year absence, having avoided a repeat of last season’s playoff heartbreak by securing automatic promotion with three games to spare. Paul Heckingbottom’s side finished 10 points behind runaway champions Burnley, who lost only three games all season, but nevertheless fully deserved their promotion back to the top flight.

While attention will now be turning to the drama of the playoffs, it’s worth taking a look at some of the key players from the Blades’ promotion campaign now that we have a full season of data to examine.

There will be some squad turnover as they seek to avoid immediate relegation back to the Championship, but it’s likely that these five players will continue to play important roles next season. 

John Egan, centre-back

Egan will be one of a few familiar names making their return to the top flight next season and will likely be made club captain if veteran striker Billy Sharp departs in the summer. The Irish center back appeared in 45 league games this season and led the team with both an 86.9 aerial duel grade (18th among all defenders) and an 89.0 grade on 50-50 duels (second among all defenders). Egan won 50 (74.6%) of his 50-50 duels, the sixth most of any center back.

Anel Ahmedhodžić, centre-back

The Bosnian center back was another mainstay of Sheffield United’s back three, but his standout grade is somewhat surprising. He managed to produce an 81.3 shooting grade, the highest of any defender in the league and the third highest of any Sheffield United player. He also scored seven goals, earned a 77.1 aerial duels grade (69th among all defenders) and posted an 80.0 challenge grade, good for third highest on the team and 51st among all defenders.

Oliver Norwood, midfielder

One of two Sheffield United players to feature in every Championship game (Iliman Ndiaye being the other), Norwood was a key creative force this season. Another veteran of the club’s previous spell in the Premier League, he will be keen to maintain his performance from a season that saw him receive a hugely impressive 90.4 crossing grade (third among all players) and an 81.3 passing grade (17th among midfielders). He led the team with 74 key passes (sixth among all players) and completed 236 line-breaking passes (fifth among central midfielders).

Oli McBurnie, striker

McBurnie will also be taking another crack at the top flight. Coming off a 13-goal season in the Championship, he will be looking to add to the seven Premier League goals currently to his name. An 87.2 shooting grade (eighth among all forwards) led the team and bodes well for next season. McBurnie recorded nine unsavable shots (tied for sixth most of any player), while his true shots on target rate of 65% ranked 32nd of 80 center forwards with more than 15 shots.

Iliman Ndiaye, attacking midfielder

Perhaps the most exciting player on this list, Ndiaye may be a familiar name to Spurs fans, with the 23-year-old attacking midfielder's goal knocking them out of the FA Cup in March. Ndiaye led the team with 14 goals (tied for eighth among all players) and with 10 assists (tied for second among all players), producing some very impressive grades along the way.

He recorded the second-highest dribbling grade of any player (88.8) and completed 1.9 dribbles per 90 for a 64.6% completion rate, both first for Sheffield United players (minimum 10 dribbles). The Senegalese player also had the highest passing grade of any Blades player (83.3, 10th among midfielders), completing 19 defensive line-breaking passes in the process (eighth among all players).

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