The Red Devils came from 2-0 down to go 3-2 up late on at Bramall Lane, only to concede a last-minute equaliser to Oli McBurnie
This is not the type of ground you can come to and coast. It’s not the type of ground you can come to and expect Sheffield United to go easy at any stage of the game. Every second is important and potentially significant. If you don’t believe in that, then don’t bother turning up. Every loose ball is a war. If you don’t fancy it, stay at home.
And for a long time at Bramall Lane, Manchester United’s players did all the wrong things, sent all the wrong signals. They limped out of challenges and they whined. They looked around at a largely indifferent referee who encouraged them to get on with it.
Lys Mousset embodies plenty of the characteristics that make Chris Wilder’s teams successful, and it was his chase and harry on top of Phil Jones which brought the opening goal. There is no such thing as a lost cause, not here. He barged Jones out of the way, the hapless defender rag-dolled, reduced to begging for a free kick.
David de Gea was doing his level best to keep the 20-time English champions in the game, but even his fine save from John Lundstram ended up in Sheffield United possession. John Fleck won’t score an easier goal. The visitors were bullied, battered and bruised; but more significantly they were outplayed.
And in that context, the seven-minute rally, in which Manchester United scored three times, was remarkable. All the more so considering it had nothing in common with the performance levels that immediately preceded it.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has his critics and will again after dropping yet another lead. But to his credit he made the right changes to get his side back into the game.
Jesse Lingard, on at half-time to replace Jones, gave them the extra midfielder they desperately needed throughout the first 45 minutes. That Jones was selected is down to no one but Solskjaer, not to mention the erroneous decision to match up Sheffield United with three central defenders. Jones hadn’t been seen in months, don’t be surprised to see him go back into hibernation after his baffling selection here.
The other big problem is that Andreas Pereira nor Fred possess the requisite technical skills or personality to run a Manchester United midfield. Lingard gave them an outlet and played his part in their revival.
With Solskjaer opting to go for three at the back, he left his team a man light in midfield. That problem was addressed at half-time by the inclusion of Lingard, but the manager is making mistakes and correcting them in hindsight rather than making the right choices to begin with.
It meant they had no way of benefitting from possession in decent midfield areas, no one to make use of the ball. Pereira and Fred tried but they were outgunned. Their ineptitude was demonstrated in the concession of the second goal. Pereira gives it away, Fred inexplicably lets Mousset the wrong side of him. They were very lucky it wasn’t game over. But Brandon Williams’ very decent shot on the bounce gave them something to cling onto and to aim for.
Credit to Solskjaer for the decision to use Mason Greenwood. It was another tactical rejig, with the visitors going hell for leather with a hard-working 4-2-4 in an attempt to salvage something.
Williams, Greenwood and Marcus Rashford scored the goals; all three forged in-house at the club’s academy. That in itself gets to the point of Solskjaer’s methodology. The part about trusting the kids is all well and good but there has got to be an overall strategy underpinning it. Here, Solskjaer got it all wrong before getting it right. And yet still it wasn’t enough.
The Video Assistant Referee took an agonising few minutes to reach the right decision on Oli McBurnie’s late equaliser and a point was at least as much Sheffield United deserved for their efforts. Wilder will be asking questions of his players for the defensively laxity which prompted the three Manchester United goals which they did very little to merit.
But the win at Norwich at the end of October represents the only away win Solskjaer’s side have earned in the Premier League since February. They have been beaten most places they have gone on this dispiriting roadshow with Ole at the wheel. And when you look through the list of stadiums you won’t see Anfield, the Etihad, Stamford Bridge. Those are all yet to come, that’s if Solskjaer makes it that far.
It’s been places like Wolverhampton, West Ham, Newcastle and Bournemouth. Decent Premier League names but once upon a time fodder for Manchester United.
The gumption shown in the comeback will probably be sufficient to keep the wolves from the door for Solskjaer for another while yet. All the while the calls for Mauricio Pochettino grow louder. Unemployed but admired, the Argentine is the name on most people’s lips.
It was around this time last year that Jose Mourinho was beginning the tailspin which ended in him losing his job. Pochettino, through those days, was the man linked with the vacancy even though he was still in the Spurs hotseat.
He is a lot more available this time round, with matches against Tottenham and Manchester City on the horizon. If executive vice-chair Ed Woodward has any doubts about Solskjaer being the man to bring United forward then he has got to weigh that concern out against the reality that Pochettino, if he so chooses, is unlikely to be out of work long.
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