Ex-Manchester United man Oliver Norwood is now so key for Sheffield United

Manchester United travel to face a Sheffield United side who have shown greater organisation and a clearer gameplan than them this season and are a point and two places ahead in the Premier League table.

Former United midfielder Oliver Norwood has been so vital in the Blades’ adaptation to top flight life, having ripped up the Championship last season as well.

So how did he go from not playing a first team game at Old Trafford to bossing Premier League engine rooms?

What happened at United?

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Norwood came through the ranks at Old Trafford but left for Huddersfield Town in 2012, at the age of 21.

The BBC report from the time quotes Terriers boss Simon Grayson saying: “Oliver turned down a number of other clubs to be a part of our team and I believe he will be a key player for us.

“Manchester United offered him a new deal, but he wanted to leave to pursue his career, which says a lot about him.”

He was already a full Northern Ireland international at that stage but with Sir Alex Ferguson electing to bring back Paul Scholes rather than promote Paul Pogba during that 2011/12 season, Norwood never really stood a chance.

Three Premier League promotions

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There is a specific class of player too good for the Championship but deemed not quite good enough for the Premier League and Norwood has been in danger of dropping into it.

He moved to Brighton from Reading in 2016 and played 33 league games as the Seagulls were promoted to the Premier League in 2017.

But before even getting a crack at the Premier League, Chris Hughton loaned him to Fulham, who were subsequently promoted at the end of that season. Norwood made 41 Championship appearances, including the play-off final victory over Aston Villa.

Norwood again was robbed of a top flight campaign, joining Sheffield United on loan in summer 2018; on an initial loan deal which was made permanent in January.

As Fulham’s expensively-assembled squad endured a shambolic relegation campaign, Norwood established himself as vital in Chris Wilder’s system.

Why is he so important to the Blades?

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Wilder’s overlapping centre backs have taken plenty of acclaim this term but Norwood has been integral too.

He has started every league match as captain, and is adept at coming into deep, wide positions, creating overloads and switches of play.

Norwood also retired from international football during the summer, which has helped keep him fresh for testing Premier League engagements.

But does this United side have a central midfielder with his blend of experience, energy, aggression and technical ability?

Since Ander Herrera left the club, the answer is no. And it would be no surprise to see Norwood dominate the engine room on Sunday afternoon, especially in the absence of Scott McTominay.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.