Manchester United overcame an early error by Dean Henderson to earn a 3-2 win at a beleaguered Sheffield United on Thurday. David McGoldrick pounced on chaos in the visiting penalty area to give the Blades hope of a first win of the Premier League season but seven first-half minutes were enough to change the game as first Marcus Rashford and then Anthony Martial netted. A superb flowing counter finished by Rashford looked to be enough to send United to a sixth straight away win to start the season, all of which have come from losing positions.
Ultimately Rashford’s goal was sufficient but an 87th minute header from McGoldrick set the stage for a thrilling finale with substitute Lys Mousset drawing a fine save from Henderson as Sheffield United’s woes deepened. Read on for the key talking points from the game.
Pogba shows United what they’ll be missing
Maybe Paul Pogba could never have fit into the Manchester United midfield. Maybe it was too much to build this team around him, we will never know seeing as the Old Trafford hierarchy at best failed to do so. But when he sprays passes as he did tonight it seems such a shame to lose him, as this club almost certainly will.
In particular the dreamy lob to tee up Martial for Manchester United’s second was the sort you naturally assume he could not possibly have meant. Surely he must have been looking for Aaron Wan-Bissaka? Except he had tried to lob his compatriot in behind earlier and it had nearly paid off. When the delivery is so perfectly in Martial’s path you can only ask yourself whether you think it is more likely that the ball would fluke its way to the No. 9 or Pogba could pull that pass off so perfectly.
I know which my money is on.
And then as if that was not enough his quick feet against the press was enough to break past four defenders and begin the thrilling counter-attack that allowed Rashford to end this game. Whether it is his fault, his club’s or both that we have seen this Pogba this infrequently, it is certain that he will be missed when he is gone.
Sheffield United don’t seem to have given in
For 26 minutes this was one of Sheffield United’s best performances of the season. That it faded quickly after their visitors’ equalizer is no great surprise for a team who have started worse than any other side in the history of the top flight. But it did not vanish entirely.
It is too soon to write the Blades’ Premier League obituary. If this team picks up points at the same rate they did last season for the remainder of this they would end up with 36 points, usually enough to stave off the drop. But that is what is required, that Sheffield United repeat a quite remarkable campaign that took them to ninth.
There are tactical issues in this team; without Jack O’Connell, Chris Wilder has been unable to deploy the overlapping center-backs that gave opposing managers such headaches. Lys Mousset and Oliver McBurnie have struggled with injuries. Henderson’s replacement has been insufficient whilst they signed few proven additions to their squad.
But there is spirit and resolve in this team. They held on to the faintest of handholds in the game after Rashford’s second, surviving until long enough that they could muster one late spell of pressure from set pieces with a Victor Lindelof header bouncing off McGoldrick and into the net.
Henderson’s nightmare return
Back in the Steel City for the first time since his loan ended at the end of the 2019-20 season, it did not take long for Henderson to get back to doing what he had done for so much of his two years with Wilder’s side: help them win football games. It was not quite enough on this occasion but his former teammates could not question his seasonal generosity.
In truth Henderson was not solely culpable when Harry Maguire played him into trouble with his pass across the goalmouth as Oliver Burke and McGoldrick hovered menacingly. But if the visiting captain should have just got rid so should his goalkeeper, who took too many touches, inviting the challenge from Burke that prompted the goalmouth scramble.
For all the justifiable excitement about Henderson’s long-term development into Manchester United’s number one this was a moment that should serve as a reminder of the gulf between what a goalkeeper is expected to at the very highest level compared with Sheffield United and Shrewsbury Town.
Last season he was rarely required to deal with short range interplay with his center-backs. In 36 games he attempted just 51 passes that travelled 20 meters or fewer. By way of comparison David De Gea tried 366. He simply does not have great experience of dealing with situations like the one he faced at Bramall Lane.
He will learn by doing and certainly such an embarrassing start to his first game back at his old stomping ground will not soon fade from memory.
Aaron Ramsdale: He simply does not look good enough yet to succeed Henderson in the Sheffield United goal. Prior to tonight’s game he had conceded over four more goals than the expected goal value of the shots they had faced, that didn’t change with three poor efforts to deny Rashford and Martial. RATING: 3
Marcus Rashford: Wilder was furious with the ease with which his defenders allowed Rashford to overpower them but you do wonder what they can be reasonably expected to do against a forward with the technique and speed to go beyond them and strength to hold his own if they get too close. All of that was on display tonight. RATING: 8
Premier League outlook
Victory for Manchester United moves them up to sixth but, having played a game fewer than those around them, they are just two points off Tottenham in second. Sheffield United remain moored to the foot of the Premier League table with just one point from 13 games. No team in the history of English league football has had fewer at this stage of a season.