There’s a paradox at the heart of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s seemingly unpredictable and quirky Manchester United side. They are indeed the most consistent team in the Premier League.
They’re not consistently good, to be clear. But they are consistent. A mess shuffles at home. To do one more convincing performance. Rightly beaten by Crystal Palace, beaten by Spurs in a breakthrough embarrassment. Sluggish passive in intimidated, fearful stalemates against Chelsea and City and in a 1-0 defeat by Arsenal (Arsenal!). In a 1-0 win against West Brom absolutely not convincing.
But not at home? When you are not home the magic happens. United absolutely comes to life on the street, and Bramall Lane is as welcoming as you could possibly want right now. Sheffield United is arguably the ground and federation team hardest hit by the absence of fans. It must also be said that it is currently being hit dramatically because it is unable to do the most rudimentary defensive duties or rely on its goalkeeper in any way.
This has been a double topic of conversation here because Solskjaer – an avid student of the narrative he is – chose this game to take the plunge and throw Dean Henderson in instead of David De Gea. Obviously, it only took Henderson five minutes to make the worst mistake he has ever made here when Henderson established his reputation with a couple of near-flawless seasons, first in the promotion season and then in last year’s amazing overachievement. Henderson was ambushed by Oli Burke and David McGoldrick gratefully accepted a gift that lands perfectly in the early Christmas gift area. Ho ho ho.
This was foreseeable not only because of the Law of Sod, of course, but also because United does it. They win all of their away games, but they also go back first in all of their away games. Just to make it more fun. Six straight away wins are extraordinary enough for a team that has not yet reached the elite. Six away wins from behind on the go are just absolute sauce. You can’t help but love it.
Especially since the way the comebacks are always great. United’s top four, Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford – especially Rashford – and Mason Greenwood hissed and buzzed with menace on the pitch. Paul Pogba decided on one of his good days.
Rashford’s equalization was a matter of beauty, its exquisite touch and instant missile finish almost as good as forcing the government to make two embarrassing U-turns in six months.
Anthony Martial had then reached the end of a Pogba pass and was lucky before stabbing home. The third and seemingly decisive goal was the result of a blitz break in one of the most recent tackles with Phil Jagielka clearing Mason Greenwood just before Rashford’s shot under Aaron Ramsdale. Jagielka’s appearance from the bench as an early substitute for Sander Berge was a major setback for the Blades shortly after their spectacular start and returned the advantage to United. Another mistake by Ramsdale confirmed that the biggest difference between this season and last season is goalkeeping. Further evidence came when Henderson kept the points after United naturally let Sheffield United back in.
With that evidence, Sheffield United could fare worse than replacing Jagielka and Ramsdale. Their second goal made for a nervous end and unlike Southampton, Chris Wilder certainly can’t have complaints that his team has given up. But they look completely unsuitable for the Premier League and have now made the worst top start in history. At the very least, they seem to be going the sensible route of accepting that relegation is now all but inevitable and that Wilder remains the man most likely to get them back on their feet. There isn’t much more to say than that.
But what about United? That wildly inconsistent consistency certainly can’t get it to the title even at this stupidest season, but it can go a long way. There are other things in the game, but one obvious reason why playing away games suits them is the deadly counterattack threat that has been seen so many times here. But Spurs have shown that it is still entirely possible to use this tactic at home. So it remains a mystery why United cannot do this so thoroughly.
This was another impressive, albeit confusing, away win for Ole’s men, but they really need to clear this home form. The logic demands it, but so does the fixture list. Three of the next five are at home, the other two in Leicester and Liverpool. Even this lot certainly cannot get away from giving up the lead in these two.
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Manchester United F. . C.. . , Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Premier League, Paul Pogba, Manchester, Sheffield United F. . C.. . , UEFA Champions League
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