Manchester United were shell-shocked by visitors Sheffield United in their premier league fixture on Wednesday at Old Trafford. Goals from Bryan and Burke overcame a headed goal from Maguire to deny the Red Devils the chance to go top. A heart-wrenching 2-1 loss after a poor and disappointing display left Manchester United fans frustrated while giving Sheffield a huge boost.
David de Gea started in goal as the preferred choice in the league. The back four comprised of Maguire, Tuanzebe, Wan-Bissaka, and Alex Telles. Pogba and Matic were the holding midfielders behind Bruno, Martial, Greenwood, and Rashford. The substitutes included Cavani, van de Beek, McTominay, Mata, Shaw, and James.
Manchester United started slowly and lazily knocking the ball around with no real intent and desire. On the other hand, Sheffield were disciplined and energetic on both defense and attack. Bruno Fernandes tried a long pass over the top in the early minutes but the ball simply trickled to the Sheffield goalkeeper. Rashford and Martial both had some openings but Rashford’s attempt was off target, and Martial lost out to Sheffield’s veteran Jagielka. Sheffield United had a chance in the 18th minute but de Gea made a good save to keep the Blades out. On the other end, Greenwood broke free but could not find his feet and get his shot on target. United struggled significantly in the final third as Sheffield’s gritty defensive display outmatched United’s slow build-up.
Sheffield United soon broke the deadlock with a set-piece goal. Sheffield’s Bryan headed a drilled corner into the far post. Upon watching replays, it was evident that de Gea was shoved in the back by a Sheffield player clearly obstructing him from catching the ball. However, in an abysmal display of officiant, the referee and VAR both allowed the goal to stand. Manchester United looked for a response and began attacking the other end through Mason Greenwood but both his shots did not find the goal. If the officiating was not bad enough, Manchester United had a goal disallowed in the 31st minute. Sheffield’s Ramsdale spilled a cross into Martial’s path, who poked the ball home. However, the referee blew for a foul on Ramsdale which left many viewers shocked and frustrated. By the end of the half, United were playing better but were far from their best.
Manchester United started the second half much better as Bruno combined well with Mason in the final third, but the young winger’s shot was off target. However, Sheffield were good on the break and almost found a second goal through McGoldrick. Manchester United won a couple of freekicks on the edge of the box but the first from Rashford was tame and quite disappointing. Bruno’s freekick took a piece off the wall and went out for a corner. However, Harry Maguire headed in a corner to give Manchester United a lifeline in the game. With the game tied, Cavani replaced Mason on the pitch.
Cavani’s introduction gave the midfield better attacking options as Pogba and Fernandes began peppering the Sheffield box with long passes. Unfortunately, in an attempt to find the winner, Manchester United’s defense lost its focus to give Sheffield a second goal. A moment of confusion between Maguire and de Gea gifted Sheffield possession. When the ball fell to Burke, none of the United defenders closed him down, and his shot deflected off Tuanzebe and the bar before finding the back of the net. Horrific display from the Manchester United defense making a hard job even worse.
Telles’ shot from distance came close but was marginally over the bar. In the 84th minute, van De Beek and Shaw came on for Tuanzebe and Telles. As Matic slid into the center back position, Pogba and Bruno took up the holding midfielder roles allowing van de Beek to attack. Despite the constant pressure, Sheffield United denied the hosts any good chances thereby condemning them to a shocking 2-1 defeat.
While this was only Manchester United’s fourth league defeat of the season, it was a heartbreaking and embarrassing one. At this point of the league where every game is critical, this United team was underwhelming and sub-par. Martial looked far from his best as his work rate and vision were very poor. Even Greenwood and Rashford were unable to deal with Sheffield’s organized and disciplined back-five. The entire Manchester United defense was poor and lethargic today- showing no hustle or intent. Matic was predictable in his constant back and sideways passes giving the hosts little to no chance of pressuring Sheffield.
I will also question why Ole seems to always be sitting in his chair and watching quietly. During this, the team could benefit from some guidance and instruction from the manager. On the other hand, you could see Chris Wilder marshaling his troops and keeping them alert. Even when he was on the touchline, there was not enough calling out from Ole. A tough trip to Arsenal is up next and maximum points are an absolute necessity if Ole’s men want to continue challenging for the title.