Premier League defenders hate playing against Cameron Archer.
The 22-year-old joined newly promoted Sheffield United from Aston Villa for a reported £18 million fee last summer and has already made a name for himself versus elite opposition in football’s most competitive league. Born in Walsall, Archer is a product of Aston Villa’s revered academy programme and has featured regularly for England’s development squads for the past two seasons, helping the U21s win the European Championship in 2023.
While Archer made a handful of first-team appearances for the Villans, the majority of his senior experience before his switch to Bramall Lane was earned on loan at Solihull Moors (National League), Preston North End, and Middlesbrough (Championship). Directness has always been a key attribute for Archer – a skill the dynamic forward has utilised frequently this term.
In the second half of Sheffield United’s 1-1 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion in December, the Englishman was a constant threat from the left channel – an area he often occupies when positioned as a centre-forward.
Archer plays a quick one-two with Luke Thomas to create separation from his marker(s) on the left flank. With the ball back under his control, he advances towards the penalty area and draws pressure from Jan Paul van Hecke. The Dutchman attempts to funnel Archer towards the outside, but the Sheffield United forward spots his poor body positioning, knocks the ball around his opponent, and uses his footstep to break into space.
While the Blades were unable to convert the chance Archer created, his ability to bypass markers on the dribble in one-on-one situations was a key factor in their eventual comeback. Statistically, his value as a dribbler is clear to see – the 5’9” forward ranks inside the top third of attackers from the five major leagues for progressive carries (1.67) and successful take-ons (1.39) per 90.
Archer is also a shot threat from anywhere in the final third, combining impeccable technical with commendable composure and eye-catching power to overcome experienced Premier League goalkeepers. The England youth international has already authored a collection of highlight reel moments, headlined by drive from distance versus Wolverhampton Wanderers in November.
With the match tied in the final twenty minutes, Sheffield United and Wolves are both committing additional players to their attacks in a bid to break the deadlock. As a result, both teams are at risk of being caught on the counter-attack.
After an awkward play on the halfway line, the ball rebounds beyond the visitors’ defensive line and into the path of Archer. He claims possession of the ball (maintaining his positional advantage over Nelson Semedo), takes one touch, and strikes the ball over the glove of Jose Sa from outside the box.
While the play was officially recorded as an own goal by Jordan Pickford, Archer ‘scored’ from similar territory against Everton in September.
Everton’s defence retreats towards the penalty area, allowing Archer to control a bouncing pass as it enters the final third.
James Tarkowski attempts to force Archer to the outside. However, the Sheffield United striker catches his opponent flat-footed, knocks the ball onto his dominant right foot, and curls a shot (with force) against the woodwork. Pickford scores into his own net on the rebound.
Archer demonstrated his patience and composure on his Villa Park return in December.
Gustavo Hamer is played into space along the left flank, cutting back onto his right foot as he reaches the touchline.
With Aston Villa’s defence collapsing into the six-yard box, Archer slows his run upon reaching the penalty spot to create space between himself and Pau Torres. Hamer passes to an unmarked Archer, who beats Emiliano Martinez with a one-touch finish.
Archer has outscored his expected goals tally in each of the last three league campaigns, beating his projected clip by more than eight goals. In other words, the data suggests that his finishing ability is significantly above average. With his prime still several seasons away, the Midlands-born forward has two major limitations to address – his futility in aerial situations (which is likely to remain a weakness due to his height) and relative reluctance to pass progressively.
However, Archer still projects as a future Champions League-calibre player due to his strong link-up play, ability to retain possession, and all-action presence in the attacking third. While Sheffield United face an uphill battle to maintain their Premier League status, there isn’t a defender in the country who is excited to face Archer in the final stretch of the season. Already, he is a nightmare to play against.
By: Luke James / @LukeJames_32
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Christian Hofer – The FA