Che Adams has not found the back of the net in a competitive fixture yet this season but could sense a chance to open his account when Southampton travel to his old stomping ground this weekend.
Saints face Sheffield United at Bramall Lane as they bid to go three Premier League games without a defeat after a win and a draw against Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester United respectively.
It’s set to be a closely-contested affair between two well-drilled teams, with Chris Wilder earning plenty of plaudits for his impressive style of football, which has helped the Blades acclimatise seamlessly to the demands of life back in the Premier League.
While Sheffield United have been excellent for swathes of their opening four matches, some weaknesses have prevailed to hold them back.
They beat Crystal Palace 1-0 with consummate ease but had rather more trouble defensively in their other three outings.
A late goal from Billy Sharp salvaged an opening-weekend draw at Bournemouth after poor defending from a corner allowed Chris Mepham a chance to scramble home.
In their third match of the season, Sheffield United suffered a disappointing 2-1 loss to Leicester City. Their defence was split open for Jamie Vardy to rifle home before a second-half strike from Harvey Barnes – an excellent effort but a product of the hosts failing to clear their lines – condemned them to defeat.
Most recently, they produced an exceptional fightback to claw a point from their trip to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea headed into the break two goals up after Tammy Abraham capitalised on two lapses in concentration at the back, but a strike from Callum Robinson and Kurt Zouma’s late own goal saw the spoils shared.
Results such as these have caught the eye of many, and Sheffield United deserve immense praise for the way in which they have approached Premier League football; some newly-promoted sides sit back and attempt to play on the break, but Wilder’s men have been good to watch throughout.
However, they are by no means a completely resolute defensive structure, and in games such as Southampton at home, Wilder is highly likely to instruct his side to play on the front foot and control the game. As such, he may call on his two flanking central defenders in the back three to bomb on and support the wing-backs, creating overloads down the flanks.
While this is something that Saints must be wary of in defensive transition, it also presents them with an even greater chance to exploit the Blades’ previous shortcomings at the back. There will be space to play into for both sides on Saturday, and this should work in the visitors’ favour given their propensity to drive the ball forward and break away at speed.
Chances at both ends may present themselves throughout the afternoon, and the fixture at Bramall Lane appears to be Adams’s best opportunity yet to find the target.
He has come agonisingly close already this season. His miss at Burnley would ultimately prove costly, while he also fluffed his lines in recent outings against Liverpool and Manchester United.
However, his movement in between the lines and ability to find space on the blind-side of defenders is something that served him well at Birmingham and is also providing him with good opportunities to score at Southampton.
Wilder tends to set his team up in a mid-block, indicating that while a compact shape will be preferred when Saints are having a lengthier spell of possession, there may still be space to work within, and Adams will not necessarily need to drop as deep as he has done so far to receive service.
Southampton have not been convincing this season, but chance creation has not been a problem. Their failure to dispatch good opportunities, coupled with the defensive deficiencies that continue to plague them, has left them in an underwhelming position of 13th.
In games such as that of this weekend, however, ruthlessness must be prioritised. Both teams will fancy their chances, and Adams will be desperate to break his duck and fire home for his new club.
Once one goes in for him, perhaps plenty more will follow…
Sheff U win