Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial earn Manchester United win over bottom-placed Sheffield United

Sheffield United 2-3 Manchester United: David McGoldrick’s two goals bookended a flowing attacking performance from the visitors

Mark Critchley
Bramall Lane
Thursday 17 December 2020 22:09
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Manchester United may continue to veer from the ridiculous to the sublime, but how sublime they can be. Three of the best goals that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will score all season produced yet another win from behind on the road in the Premier League, denying Sheffield United the first win of their relentlessly miserable campaign to date.

An error by Dean Henderson, handed only his second Premier League start for the club and so impressive while on loan at Bramall Lane last season, allowed David McGoldrick to pounce and give Chris Wilder’s side brief hope that their long wait for three points may finally come to an end.

Yet as has been the way for all six of United’s away days this season, they rallied to turn the contest around. Two Marcus Rashford goals either side of a long overdue Anthony Martial strike, as well as a virtuosic display by Paul Pogba, took the game away from their hosts in style.

McGoldrick added a consolation in the closing stages and - as with the 3-3 draw in last season’s corresponding fixture, Sheffield United briefly threatened a comeback of their own - but there would be no equaliser. The gap between last season’s overachievers and their fellow relegation battlers is only growing. Wilder must be starting to worry, as will those above him.

Solskjaer, meanwhile, is looking upwards, climbing to sixth with this win. His side were excellent at times. Rashford’s finish for the first and Pogba’s pass for the second warrant repeated viewings, but the finest goal was the third - a flowing transition from defence to attack, starting with a Pogba ‘roulette’, taking in four other players and finished by Rashford.

But once again, they made things look hard before they made things look easy. For the 11th time in their 18 league and European games this season, Solskjaer’s side fell behind and Henderson, trusted to start against his former club ahead of David de Gea, made an error which is likely to see him return to the substitutes bench over Christmas.

Henderson spent much of last season kicking long at Bramall Lane, doing so more than any other goalkeeper in the top flight, which may be why the mistake came while attempting to play out from the back. He hesitated too long upon receiving one ball from Harry Maguire close to his goal-line, allowing Oliver Burke to close him down.

Burke blocked Henderson’s kick and the Manchester United goalkeeper then failed to smother the loose ball. It broke for McGoldrick, who was left with a simple tap-in. Henderson briefly thought he could be reprieved by VAR, but after a short delay while the officials checked whether Burke had handled the ball in the goalmouth scramble, the goal stood.

John Fleck should have added another. A turn and flick by Chris Basham - of all people - set them away on a rapid counter-attack which ended with John Fleck being found unmarked on the edge of the box. He dragged his shot wide. Wilder’s winless side were flying. But their wings would soon be clipped.

A hamstring injury to Sander Berge had seen Phil Jagielka introduced. Fielding a 38-year-old centre-back against the speed of Manchester United’s attack was a risk. Doing so while playing a high line was willingly self-destructive. With acres of space left in behind, the equaliser came easily. And yet, it was still exquisite.

Victor Lindelof’s peach of a ball over the top of the defence from inside his own half pinned Jagielka up against Rashford. It was exactly the match-up that Manchester United wanted. Rashford sped away from his marker and an immaculate first touch set himself for a quite gorgeous finish, plucked out of his feet and past Aaron Ramsdale.

Still Wilder persisted with the high line, ignoring several warning signs as Manchester United’s forwards were flagged marginally offside. One carefully measured pass in behind would break them. Pogba found it, clipping a first-time ball over the top, around John Egan and directly into Martial’s feet.

Martial controlled it like a striker without a league goal this season but Ramsdale attempted to gather the ball like a goalkeeper who has kept five clean sheets in 50 top-flight appearances. The ball bounced against him and then behind him, allowing Martial to recompose himself and guide it into an empty net.

Pogba began to dictate, as if coming to the realisation that he is significantly better than the standard of opposition. Those who struggle to name a good performance by Manchester United’s record signing would do well to remember this game. His passing took on greater range and ambition. His part in his side’s third goal was glorious.

Intercepting a Sheffield United throw deep in his own half, Pogba turned away from one tackle then pirouetted around another. Intricate patterns of one and two-touch passing between Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Rashford and Martial advanced them up the pitch until Rashford was left to apply a low, hard finish. It was a majestic goal.

That should have been that. McGoldrick had other ideas, diverting the ball past Henderson on a corner after Lindelof had knocked it against him. But Solskjaer’s side would hold on, with Henderson even getting a chance to atone for his early error. Substitute Lys Moussett may have stolen a point late on, if not for the goalkeeper’s fine save to extend his former club’s woeful start.

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