Football Features

‘Seven-minute swing’ not enough to save Man Utd’s blushes as Sheff Utd take another top-six point

By J Smith

Published: 18:36, 24 November 2019

Sheffield United and Manchester United served up a cracker at Bramall Lane on Sunday in a remarkable 3-3 draw.

For 72 minutes, Sheffield Utd totally outplayed their hapless opponents and had taken a commanding 2-0 lead thanks to goals from John Fleck and Lys Mousset.

But a stunning ‘seven-minute swing’ from Man Utd saw Brandon Williams, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford fire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side into a lead even the most apologetic Red Devil wouldn’t have foreseen.

Even there, the drama wasn’t done yet, with Oliver McBurnie popping up in second-half stoppage time to level the scores, even if VAR had to have another long old check before the goal was given.

Here are five things we learned from Sunday’s goalfest at Bramall Lane.

1. The kids (almost) save the day

Man Utd were nothing short of hopeless for the majority of the game. Absolutely terrible. Then Williams turned up with a moment of magic to fire the Red Devils back into contention and from there, Man Utd finally asserted themselves on the game.

Shortly after Williams’ wonder-strike, Greenwood was thrown into the mix in place of the hapless Andreas Pereira and his presence seemed to spark real life into Solskjaer’s attack. Just four minutes after coming on, Greenwood was set up by Rashford to make it 2-2.

The comeback was completed when winger Daniel James used his lightning pace to get beyond the Sheffield Utd defence for what felt like the first time all afternoon, teeing the ball up to Rashford to fire home and complete a remarkable quickfire turnaround.

In typical Man Utd fashion, they still managed to throw away the lead at the end but if there’s one positive to take from this for Solskjaer, it’s the fact that with Greenwood on the pitch, he may have found a formula which can chase lost causes moving forwards.

Solskjaer discusses ‘positive’ draw

2. Fred and Pereira are not Premier League footballers

You have to feel for Solskjaer to a certain extent – the Norwegian has inherited the worst Man Utd squad in recent memory and to compile the misery, the Red Devils have been absolutely crippled by injury.

The likes of Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay all being sidelined forced the manager to field a midfield partnership of Fred and Pereira on Sunday and it’s safe to say that neither of them are cut out for the Premier League.

The pair were horrendously wasteful in possession at Bramall Lane, notching up respective pass completion rates of 70% and 67% respectively during the first half and that didn’t get any better after the break, with Pereira being caught in possession for Sheffield Utd’s second goal.

The passes they did complete were negative and lacking imagination, while neither of them offered sufficient protection for a visibly shaken Man Utd backline.

There is serious work to do in the January transfer market for Solskjaer.

3. Wilder impresses despite squandering lead

Drawing away at Chelsea and Tottenham and pushing Liverpool all the way before this game, Man Utd knew this was never going to be easy.

For 72 minutes, Chris Wilder’s side absolutely dominated their illustrious visitors, playing some breakneck football and denying Man Utd any breathing space in possession.

The Sheffield Utd boss has his Blades organised out of possession and sharp, precise and decisive in it. For so long, every player was in tune with one another on Sunday and whether it was tight passing triangles or more direct balls down the channels, Man Utd just couldn’t cope.

Mousset and David McGoldrick were absolute pests up-front, Fleck and John Lundstram unpredictable with their runs from midfield and Phil Jagielka dominant and authoritative at the back. In fact, it was Mousset pulling up injured and leaving the field which seemed to blunt Sheffield Utd’s attack.

This was an incredible, unforeseeable collapse, but McBurnie still managed to somehow step up and salvage a draw. Even if VAR had ruled the final goal out, the result definitely couldn’t be used as stick with which to beat Wilder. For three-quarters of the match, Sheffield Utd didn’t just go toe-to-toe with an immeasurably more expensive side, they outplayed them. Wilder’s stock is growing by the game.

4. Rashford works through the grind

Rashford was on target twice for England during the international break and, yes, granted, he was also hitting a bit of form for Man Utd just before then. But for long stretches on Sunday, it looked like it was a return to the grind for the 22-year-old, who really did cut a dejected figure at Bramall Lane.

On a number of occasions during the first half, Rashford took advantage of Anthony Martial’s movement into deep positions, darting into space behind the Sheffield Utd defence in hope of a ball over the top. But with Fred and Pereira in middle, that was never going to happen and time and again, the ball was over-played sideways.

It didn’t take long for the frustration to become visible for Rashford, who quickly grew tired of feeding off scraps and chasing down hopeless balls into the channels – for a time, it looked like he’d given up.

It took Greenwood’s introduction late on to finally give Rashford something to work with but from then on, we saw him and the rest of the Man Utd forward line spark into action with clinical movement and finishing.

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5. The Blades maintain remarkable record

Ahead of Sunday’s game, Sheffield Utd had gone unbeaten in their last 89 matches in which they had gone into the half-time break ahead, winning 76 and drawing 13.

Man Utd’s crazy seven-minute turnaround left that record – which dates all the way back to January 2014 – under serious threat but one of the greatest qualities of Wilder’s side is that they never know when they’re finished.

The Blades managed to work the ball into the box one last time as the final whistle moved into view and although an extensive VAR check left the home crowd withering down the last of their fingernails, McBurnie’s goal stood.

In the grand scheme of the game, this record won’t mean too much to Wilder. What it does illustrate, though, is a togetherness within his squad and an unwillingness to bend under pressure. It’s this mentality which is – and should continue to – serve him well in the Premier League during the months ahead.

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