United survive opening and closing scares to secure victory at Bramall Lane
In an away trip to one of the worst performing teams in Premier League history, Manchester United were presented with the perfect opportunity to kick on from their drab Manchester derby performance and shrug off the hangover of their Champions League exit.
United are, after all, on their best-ever streak of away wins in the English top flight.
While the statistic makes for impressive reading, there has been a common theme in almost every one of the wins – starting poorly and conceding unnecessary goals. It was therefore noteworthy when it was revealed that Dean Henderson would be replacing David De Gea in goal against his former club, in a decision that could well be an early signal of the end of De Gea’s tenure between the Manchester United goalposts.
If Henderson’s start was intended to make a statement of allegiance between the club and their young ‘keeper, there will have been a collective groan from the United coaching staff only five minutes into the game when there was a horror show in the visitor’s penalty box.
The mistake was entirely Henderson’s, as he dallied with the ball and allowed Oliver Burke to charge down his attempted clearance. The ball fell kindly to David McGoldrick, who had no hesitations in tapping in the ball to pile the embarrassment on to his former teammate.
Against a team that had scored five goals all season and had only one point after 12 games, United found themselves behind.
It should have been two, and likely would have had United come up against a Blades team with the confidence of last season. A well worked move from the hosts found John Fleck completely unmarked in the United box, but with acres of space and time the Scotsman could only place his effort wide.
Thankfully for fans everywhere, on this occasion Solskjaer’s side did not wait the customary 45 minutes before attempting to haul themselves back into a competitive state.
The hosts had performed admirably, but after 26 minutes the gulf in quality made itself glaringly apparent. Collecting the ball on the halfway line, Victor Lindelöf clipped a perfect ball through to find Marcus Rashford on one of his trademark runs. A wonderful touch took the pace out of the ball, and before any defenders could get close he struck a strong effort that brought the game level.
Having discovered their flow, United were not left long in their search for a second. Paul Pogba, who has not seen his on-field minutes suffer as a result of Mino Raiola’s scheming comments, continued to reward Solskjaer’s faith with a delightful first-time dink over the defensive line.
A goal-desperate Anthony Martial was the one who raced through to reach it, and a mix-up from Aaron Ramsdale allowed the Frenchman a chance to poke the ball into an empty net.
As the first half drew to a close, United had found their cruise control and quickly made up for Henderson’s early slip-up. With the attacking line flowing freely and Martial ending his 491 minute goal drought, there was a relief among fans that the second half would not be laden with pressure.
Half-time: Sheffield United 1 – 2 Manchester United
With the dawn of the second half the tide of the match only flowed further in United’s favour.
United’s third was to come as a result of a period of liquid football, as they played it from one end to the other in blistering fashion. There was brilliant work from Pogba to shrug off the press, a neat touch from Fernandes and an excellent play of advantage after a foul on Mason Greenwood.
From then, devastating one-touch link up play instigated by Rashford ultimately found him again, and United could chalk up their third.
As the clock ticked down the three points seemed assured for a United side that had simply outclassed their opposition, with any worries resulting from the early mistake now a distant memory.
Few, therefore, shared Alex Telles’ outrage at the mistaken awarding of a Blades corner as the game entered its final five minutes. The sense of security was shattered however, when McGoldrick once again popped up to nod in his second and reduce United to a mere one-goal lead for the final moments.
Thankfully Henderson was ready to atone for his early slip-up, and produced an excellent save to deny Lys Mousset a headline-stealing equaliser.
Tempers flared on the touchline with the seconds counting down as manager came against manager, but it was Solskjaer who came away smiling as the final whistle confirmed his side’s tenth consecutive victory on the road in the Premier League.
While hardly the most convincing win against a side desperately struggling, United’s victory takes their tally to 23 points for the season. If they were to win their game in hand, Ole’s boys would find themselves merely two points behind Liverpool at the top.
This season has already seen remarkable ups and downs, but through it all United have shown remarkable resolve when coming from losing positions. There is no doubt now that if this team can bring that same intensity from the first whistle, great things will still be achieved this season.
Full time: Sheffield United 2 – 3 Manchester United
Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford