It was so nearly a vintage Manchester United comeback at Bramall Lane, but an injury time strike from Oliver McBurnie rescued a point for Sheffield United in a 3-3 draw on Sunday.
The away side were quite clearly out of their depth in the first half and deservedly 1-0 down at the break. John Fleck scored the opener in the 19th minute after David De Gea made another stunning save to deny John Lundstram.
Solskjaer switched formations for the second period, but Lys Mousset was still able to double his side’s advantage seven minutes after the restart with a fine strike.
Then three goals in nine minutes for United completed a remarkable turnaround. Brandon Williams struck in the 72nd minute before substitute Mason Greenwood scored his first Premier League goal five minutes later, followed by a Marcus Rashford finish that took the lead.
The visitors failed to hold on though and had to settle for a share of the spoils.
OLE’S ALL OVER THE PLACE
Scott McTominay being unavailable through injury shouldn’t have a huge impact on United.
But given the current state of affairs, particularly in midfield, it meant manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was convinced he needed to alter his game plan.
With few midfield alternatives to pivot to, the Norwegian opted instead to field a 3-4-3 system. Fred and Andreas Pereira occupied the middle of the park that was largely meant to be bypassed.
However, they came up against a Sheffield side that was far more organised. It quickly became apparent that the visitors had no business playing with three at the back and were schooled in that system by their hosts.
United were completely overrun in the first half and struggled to string passes together. The decision to throw in Phil Jones for his first league start of the season was also ill-advised.
In fairness to Solskjaer, he corrected for his initial blunders in the second half, switching to a 4-3-3 with Jesse Lingard’s introduction. United went on to stage a remarkable comeback, scoring three goals in quick succession to lead 3-2 going into the final 10 minutes with substitute Greenwood playing a big part as well.
But with five minutes to play, Solskjaer shot himself in the foot. His decision to replace striker Anthony Martial with defender Axel Tuanzebe was disastrous. Reverting to three centre-backs only invited pressure onto his side and Sheffield eventually made them pay.
BLADES WILL CUT DOWN MORE SIDES
It’s only natural to focus on the shortcomings of Solskjaer and his side, but credit must also go to their opponents.
Chris Wilder has assembled a formidable outfit that is well-drilled and especially strong at home.
The Blades have enjoyed draws with Tottenham and Chelsea this season, while they beat Arsenal at Bramall Lane and only lost to Liverpool 1-0.
They work well as a unit and will continue to give far better sides than United a tough time, even taking points off them.
An optimistic Red Devils fan may even look at this result as a point earned.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Every time United have conceded first this season, they’ve lost … until now.
The club’s high profile and stature seems to mask the fact that they’re fielding a significant number of inexperienced players at this point. The fact that this group of youngsters had the character to fight back from 2-0 down away from home is not nothing.
Williams looked out of his depth for the most part, but kept going and sparked the comeback with a quite-brilliant strike. Greenwood on the other hand came off the bench and was a handful with his movement in the final third, even scoring the equaliser.
In fact, all three goals for the visitors were scored by academy graduates. It was a timely reminder that United’s youngsters are so much better than some of the more seasoned players at their disposal.
That right there is both where the hope lies for this club’s future, and why they’ve fallen so far.
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