A win for Manchester City on Tuesday meant that Manchester United had to win their match against Sheffield United to regain the top spot back, albeit temporarily. Sheffield United are normally a tough, rigid team that is difficult to break down. But not in this season. Sheffield United had just 5 points when they arrived at Old Trafford. In theory, the red devils probably couldn’t have asked for a better match at this stage of the season. Manchester United themselves were on a high after a brilliant come from behind win against Liverpool.
However, football matches are never played theoretically and so it was proved again. Manchester United produced one of their most awful performances of the season and ended up losing 1-2 to Sheffield United. After a brilliant unbeaten run, a performance like this was probably always coming for a United team in the post-Fergie era.
Manchester United went into this match with all the confidence in the world. But this was one of those matches where it just didn’t happen for them. Individual performances contributed to a lethargic and woeful team performance. United conceded early to a questionable goal in the 23rd minute. Then they had a goal disallowed for a foul that never was one. Harry Maguire scored the equalizer at the 63rd minute. And then United went on to concede probably the worst goal a team can ever concede. The red devils never recovered from that.
First Half Analysis
Manchester United started the match brightly. They looked composed on the ball and tried to carve out an opening against a rigid Sheffield United side. But clear cut chances were hard to come by. United more or less kept possession and dictated play without ever really threatening the blades that much. Sheffield themselves looked just happy to hang on to a result. And then two incidents happened that totally summed up United’s night at the theatre.
First, at 23rd minute Sheffield had a corner. Sharp pushes De Gea and Bryan scores. It was a soft goal to concede. But what happened 7 minutes later must have made United players aggravated. In the 30th minute, Maguire challenged for a ball with Ramsdale from a United corner. Ramsdale made a proper meal of it and dropped the ball right in front of Martial. Martial scored duly but a foul was given. If anything, the Sharp push on De Gea was much more of a foul than the Maguire challenge. For the rest of the half, United didn’t really create that much and ended the half a goal down.
Second Half Analysis
United started the 2nd half the way they ended the 1st. Sloppy in possession, rushing everything and overall just sheer lack of quality, something which is not associated with United this season. Manchester United’s lifeline back into the game came in the 63rd minute, courtesy of a Maguire header from a Telles corner. One would’ve thought it’d spur on the team to play better and go for the kill, like they’ve done so many times this season.
But that just didn’t happen. United continued to be careless when they had the ball and some of the defending from a few players were criminal at times. And it was proved fatal when Martial lost the ball at the near touchline and Sheffield broke forward. What happened in the next 30 seconds or so was horrifying. Almost the entirety of the United team just stood and watched as the ball was pinged around their box. Ultimately Burke let fly and even then it took a wicked deflection of Tuanzebe to go in. United had 3 or 4 chances to clear their lines and get rid of the danger in that phase of play.
For the rest of the match, United just huffed and puffed but didn’t have the killer edge to get back into the game. It was a disappointing performance overall but one that could’ve been prevented.
Manchester United did bask in the glory of a brilliant unbeaten run that had them top of the league for a few weeks. But the general consensus was always that United are overachieving with their squad. And so it was proved. The defeat leaves United down at 2nd place behind City, who have a game in hand. However, in the bigger picture there is still half a season left to play.
While the defeat in itself isn’t the end of the world for United, the manner of it must have hurt. Sheffield had just 5 points prior to this game. They had 9 players out. But United took them too lightly and ultimately payed the price. Also, United really need to start taking hold of matches early. They just can not keep on producing one escape art after another. Eventually it catches up to you and this was one of those days. However, there is no time to dwell on this result. United need to regroove and focus back to the matches, which will come thick and fast.