Football Features

“Solskjaer can’t save them” – Winners and Losers as Sheffield Utd stun Man Utd 1-2 in De Gea disasterclass at Old Trafford

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:44, 27 January 2021

In a wild night of football, bottom-placed Sheffield United have beaten Manchester United 1-2 at Old Trafford!

This was Sheffield United’s first win away to Manchester United since 1973. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Chris Basham

Given Sheffield United’s poor defensive record, no one expected much when they came to Old Trafford to face high-flying Manchester United. Well, no one except Chris Basham perhaps because the centre-back was absolutely incredible all night long.

Man Utd are famously prolific in that left channel, but today Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford got absolutely no joy down there because Basham was just in imperious form. All of Sheffield United’s defenders were superb at Old Trafford but Basham was just a cut above.

Basham ended the game with a massive stat-line. 4 tackles, 6 clearances (a joint team-high), a joint team-high 3 interceptions. He regained possession 9 times for his side and was so important in neutralising Man Utd in their most deadly zone.

Loser: David de Gea

One wonders how much longer Manchester United can keep up the facade that David de Gea is a superior goalkeeper to Dean Henderson? Obviously Henderson is not a goalkeeping messiah, he’s just very good and very young so even his errors are bumps on the road in his developmental process. David de Gea is 30 and has been playing first-team football for an entire decade.

De Gea’s blunder for Sheffield United’s goal, where he came off his line but then offered only a tepid jump as a defence against Kean Bryan’s prodigious leap and header, was as disappointing as it was unsurprising. De Gea has long struggled at coming off his line and commanding his area so seeing him flap at the Sheffield United corner felt familiar. And alright there was a tiny shove in his back before he jumped, but from his body position (standing still) he was never going to get enough height to get that ball away.

To make matters worse, De Gea made another mistake for Sheffield United’s second goal. Alright this one wasn’t as blatant but moments before Oliver Burke thumped home via a deflection off Axel Tuanzebe, De Gea had a great chance to clear the ball as Harry Maguire coolly let it run back to him. Only rather than thump the ball away, De Gea played an absurd pass without looking into a wide area where he perhaps expected a team-mate to be, but all he did was hand Sheffield United possession in a key area and seconds later they had scored.

The sooner Manchester United install Dean Henderson as their first-choice goalkeeper, the better for them and the club.

Loser: Anthony Martial

When Edinson Cavani came on in the 66th minute, no one was surprised. When he came on for Mason Greenwood? That was a shock. Not that Greenwood has been amazing but he had looked more lively than the other United forwards; what’s more, Anthony Martial had looked absolutely terrible.

Yes he scored a tap-in that was incorrectly ruled out but besides that literally everything he tried didn’t come off. He looked slow and sluggish from the start and when Martial starts games badly he almost never turns it around. His is a temperamental genius and this season we’ve barely seen it. Edinson Cavani and even Donny van de Beek did more in the box in their brief cameos than Martial did in 90 minutes.

To cap it all off was the pathetic display Martial put in the move that led to Sheffield United’s game-winner starting with giving the ball away and then absolutely refusing to show some energy to help block the ball in the defensive phase.

He’s obviously a talented player but this season there is simply no justification for Anthony Martial being first-choice for The Red Devils. Start Edinson Cavani or Mason Greenwood up-front and then Greenwood, Mata or James in right-wing. It can’t be worse than playing Anthony Martial, the Frenchman who is failing.


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Loser: VAR

Come on lads, it’s 2021 are we really still doing this kind of nonsense? Alright you could argue VAR didn’t see anything too bad in Billy Sharp’s shove on David de Gea, And sure it’s pretty obviously a shove but it’s also really weak goalkeeping from De Gea.

But then how did VAR fail to say that, hey, Harry Maguire didn’t foul Aaron Ramsdale when he challenged him for a header, causing Ramsdale to spill the ball for Anthony Martial to tap home? Because that was absolutely not a foul, but okay if the referee was of the mindset that any bit of contact on the goalkeeper was a foul then maybe you call it, but how does one stand and the other doesn’t?

VAR once again made to look very silly by some inconsistent officiating.

Winner: Chris Wilder

Bottom of the league, statistically the worst team in Premier League history after 19 games, but did that stop Chris Wilder? The Blades came to Old Trafford and played their usual game their usual way. They showed no respect to Manchester United and as a result were able to bag two big goals and completely upset their opponents.

Wilder has taken so much stick but his side have now won twice in their last three games, once at home and once away (four in their last five if you include their two FA Cup wins). Could this be the start of the greatest of great escapes? Watching a depleted Sheffield United outfight, outthink and outplay Manchester United at Old Trafford, you’d find it hard to not believe that Chris Wilder could pull it off.

Loser: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Knowing how Sheffield United were going to set-up, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer picked an odd XI. The sluggish Anthony Martial hasn’t played well all season, and in midfield Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba is a duo utterly lacking in dynamism of movement in games such as this.

And so it was that Matic was useless and Martial was actively bad. Solskjaer eventually brought the right kind of players onto the field but far too late for them to make an impact. He needed to change something at half-time but waited until the 66th minute to make a chance, at which point he took off his best forward on the night. You just couldn’t make it up.

United won 21 points won from losing positions before today, but watching them flounder against Sheffield United you wonder how they ever managed to do it? How was a manager as simplistic and hesitant as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer masterminded such a powerful run of comebacks this season? We’ll probably never find out, but United had better hope they can get that mojo back or they are in for a rude awakening in the second half of the Premier League season because Solskjaer can’t save them.