Manchester United broke another away record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – winning their sixth consecutive away game from the start of the season after falling behind, although they had to fight late on to preserve a win after a valiant rally from their opponents.
It was United’s tenth away league win in a row at Bramall Lane.
Solskjaer had made some big calls in his team with the selection of Pogba and Dean Henderson – both paid off, as his side were exceptional at moments, but were also precarious enough to keep the question marks over them.
In the fifth minute, one of the major decisions of Solskjaer’s reign spectacularly backfired – United played a free-kick around the backline with little confidence and Henderson stumbled on the ball. McGoldrick took full advantage to tap the ball into the net.
Of course, the prevailing issue is United’s inability to look comfortable playing out of the defence, and yet they persist – undoubtedly under direction from the manager, as this is what we’ve seen for a long time. It seems strange that a manager is so keen to play to his team’s weakness.
The Blades almost got a second on the quarter hour but Fleck fired wide.
When United got their first real opportunity, they took it – although to call it an opportunity would be to suggest it was more of an opening than was true. Lindelof’s long pass was controlled immaculately by Rashford on the edge of the area. The forward then took the shot on immediately and it caught the goalkeeper out. It was a truly excellent equaliser.
— United Paper (@PaperUtd) December 17, 2020
Eight minutes later Solskjaer’s team were in front with a goal that was either sublime or ridiculous; Pogba’s through ball looked magnificent, as did Martial’s dummy around Ramsdale before he rolled it in to the net.
On second look the pass looked fortunate as it seemed as though it was an errant attempt to Wan-Bissaka; and Martial’s clever timing instead looked to be an unfortunate slip by the home goalkeeper. It might be any combination of the two but the result was all that mattered for the visitors.
Martial goal pic.twitter.com/jJgDYV3Crf
— FUT Stephen A (@FutStephenA) December 17, 2020
So far it was following the script; United going behind only to lead. In every away game this season they’d scored at least three.
That part only took six minutes to come to fruition in the second period. Pogba’s tremendous pirouette started a move that could have ended with a foul on Greenwood; Michael Oliver waved play on, and it worked out, as Fernandes, Martial and Rashford were all involved in a clinical attack which saw the latter net from the edge of the box again.
Rashford’s second Goal vs Sheffield United
— The True Red Devils (@TrueRedDevils__) December 17, 2020
United then enjoyed a good spell of football but couldn’t score again, the closest effort coming when Juan Mata’s smart shot was saved. They were at their most attractive for a period when they were two goals up but always carried that feeling there was a casualness rather than a clinical smell of blood. Pogba looked in a positive mood after a mixed first half but it is just as important to not get too excited considering the standard of opposition, as it is to praise him for when he does well.
All things in moderation – and United were reminded of the need to be more clinical when on top as the game drew to a close.
With four minutes left, Sheffield United got a corner; Telles complained that it came off the attacker’s toe and he had a point. But the hosts took the corner, and they scored – Lindelof headed the ball with no conviction against the back of McGoldrick who claimed his second goal in circumstances as equally fortuitous as the first.
Henderson then had to smartly save an injury-time effort as Chris Wilder’s team staged a late effort for an equaliser. Those efforts made the scoreline closer than it seemed it might be at one point, but were not enough to stop the visitors from taking the points back to Manchester.
Solskjaer has made a number of major decisions in his time at United. He called an end to the careers of Lukaku and Sanchez rather abruptly and showed very early on that he was quite happy to cut Lukaku from the side.
But tonight’s omission of De Gea could be his biggest yet because dropping a goalkeeper is always a more considered selection than general rotation, and because it’s David De Gea who has been the club’s most in-form player in the post-Ferguson years.
Some think the change was overdue. It might be hasty. It gives the suggestion that what is in front of the goalkeeper is working but that blatantly isn’t true. If you have better defenders you’re more inclined to have the goalkeeper in better form, and vice versa, though surely on balance the goalkeeper is much more reliable than the defence. Dean Henderson was done no favours by his men in Istanbul, after all.
It seemed unnecessarily hasty as it’s a gamble that Solskjaer will be accountable for when the finger of blame about the poor defence is pointed at least mostly at Ed Woodward. Then again, there is only Lindelof in the backline who Solskjaer didn’t sign – so maybe it’s an indication of the pressure he is feeling that he took the decision so close to January.
It’s also one of those little hints that we won’t be seeing a new centre-back, more self-sabotage from a club who seem to constantly find ways to undermine any period of time where it seems like they could genuinely kick on.
Henderson’s error makes it another tough call for Solskjaer at the weekend. De Gea hasn’t made one as bad as that this season – so he has enough credit in the bank to ask the question. But do you upset a youngster by dropping him, especially after Henderson recovered well within the game? That’s the poser Solskjaer has unnecessarily given himself and decisions like that could hurt him.
Van De Beek