Football Features

“Let his genius gently massage your mind” – Winners and Losers as Man Utd manufacture another away day comeback

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:26, 17 December 2020

In a dynamic night of football, Manchester United came from behind again to beat Sheffield United 2-3 away from home.

The victory lifts The Red Devils up to sixth and despite criticism of them, they are 7 points better off than at same stage last season and if they win their game in-hand they could go just two points behind league leaders Liverpool. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Paul Pogba

With all the discussion around Paul Pogba’s future at Manchester United and what kind of player he is and whether United need someone like him what is always overlooked is that Pogba’s skill-set, one that allows him to do pretty much anything on a football pitch, doesn’t mean that he then must do everything – more that he can, so let him decide when and where he does it.

In essence, let him roam free like Andrea Pirlo or Juan Roman Riqulme.

That is by and large what United managed to do against Sheffield United, largely because of the struggles of the home side but still, Pogba was finding himself in a bit of space with time to think. And so he was doing magical things, like his frankly superhuman first-time pass to set-up Anthony Martial’s goal (that cruelly doesn’t go down as an assist thanks to the goalkeeper getting a touch on Martial’s initial control).

This pass really was breathtaking. Pogba doesn’t even take a customary glance up, because he’s already checked and he knows where Martial is moving and then he just lifts the ball off the grass with the kind of precision most people couldn’t generate with their hands.

Lift, arc, spin – the ball had it all and completely bamboozled the Sheffield United defence. The Frenchman was at it again with a magnificent bit of dribbling in the build-up to United’s third, evading tackles for fun before moving the ball on smartly.

Paul Pogba is a luxurious playmaker, stop trying to make him work hard and let his genius gently massage your mind.

Loser: Dean Henderson

Of course for United to do their customary comeback, they had to first fall behind. And in the act of falling behind they committed an error both amusing and laden with narrative as Dean Henderson playing at the ground where he so distinguished himself on loan last season dropped an absolute clanger to give Sheffield United the lead.

Just after dealing with a corner where the Blades tried to block him in, he received a dodgy pass from Harry Maguire. Now Maguire definitely did him no favours with Oliver Burke in close attendance but the solution was obvious: hoof it out.

Except Henderson tried to play it. But he hesitated after his first-touch which wasn’t great anyway, and this allowed Burke to essentially tackle him. Then with the ball spinning lose Henderson panics and tries to dive down and grab the ball only for Burke to stab it sidewards and allow David McGoldrick an easy tap-in.

It was a colossal mistake from Henderson, one showing that there are considerable rough edges to be sanded down on his game. Sure the way Henderson recovered from that mistake, playing the rest of the game with supreme confidence, was impressive. But he still made a huge mistake on a ground where he would have wanted to show how far he has come.

Winner: Marcus Rashford

With Manchester United 1-0 down yet again, United know that someone had to dig them out of a hole. Marcus Rashford had already missed a presentable chance when a stunning ball from Victor Lindelof found hum running in behind the defence.

Rashford kills the ball perfectly with his first-touch and then absolutely thunders the thing into the back of the net before Aaron Ramsdale can even react. Rashford doesn’t even celebrate he just turns and runs back to the centre-circle, there’s more to do.

And more came five minutes into the second half as Rashford played a part in and then supplied the finishing touch to a deliriously good counter-attack to bag his second goal of the night. His first-ever brace away from home in the Premier League and what ended up being the game-winner. Hell, Rashford might even have bagged a hat-trick had Donny van de Beek released him earlier.

Winner: Anthony Martial

Finally, Martial, has come back, to scoring in the Premier League.

Manchester United’s enigmatic no. 9 has had a really strange season. After top-scoring for the club last season with a career-high 23 goals he’s struggled this season and came into tonight with just two goals, neither of which were in the Premier League.

However he broke that duck today when he picked up Paul Pogba’s sensational pass and finished with great composure after taking the ball by Aaron Ramsdale. He then later set-up Rashford for what turned out to be the game-winner and a direct renewal of the partnership that scored oh so many goals for The Red Devils at the back end of last season.

If Anthony Martial has gotten started it will be a gamechanger for United.

Winner: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

There is much to criticise Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for, but he has set his United side up perfectly to be a great and dangerous away side who play on the break with a viper-like lethality. United are genuinely scintillating in the open field as they showed so many times tonight, racking up some glorious goals.

Solskjaer is also, to his credit, developing his forwards nicely. The Norwegian has also handled the Paul Pogba situation as well as any manager could be expected to and is being rewarded with some game-changing displays from his Gallic genius. He’s not a great coach and United can definitely do better, but it’s not all been a disaster.

After all, Manchester United are the first team to win six games in a row on the road having conceded first in each of those games. There’s just no way that a team should be able to so consistently give opponents an advantage in their own back yard and then claw it back. Yet United just keep on doing it.

Manchester United’s powers of recovery are becoming legendary, which bodes very badly for other teams around the Red Devils who had gotten used to United being a soft touch. If they start picking up points at home then suddenly Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men might actually find themselves in the thick of a title race, and won’t that be something for the man from Molde?

Loser: Chris Wilder

Sheffield United have lost. Again.

That’s 12 defeats in 13 matches with just that lone 1-1 draw against Fulham giving them something this season. This is now 8 defeats in a row for Sheffield United, a miserable club record.

Just as much as Chris Wilder and Alan Knill’s tactics took the league by storm last season, now that everyone has had time to adjust to them they’re considerably less effective. Not to mention the compressed schedule for the league is playing hell with their smaller squad.

The Blades were actually quite sharp against United, constantly fighting back while dominating the opening and closing 10 minutes of the match. That’s impressive and creditable, but in the end they were comprehensively outplayed and although the scoreline was close, the match itself wasn’t.

Chris Wilder worked wonders last season, but this is the worst start any side has ever made to an English top-flight season in the entire history of the game. Since 1888!