Manchester United face a Sheffield United side this evening that in theory they should be able to overcome easily.
The Blades will potentially be without five defenders from the squad that has performed so admirably this season and which has conceded the second fewest goals in the Premier League.
Goalkeeper Dean Henderson is ineligible, centre-back John Egan is suspended, Panos Retsos has returned to Bayer Leverkusen after his loan expired and Jack O’Connell and Phil Jagielka are carrying knocks.
The Yorkshire side have also had two fewer days to prepare for the game than United and are coming in on the back of a heavy 3-0 loss to Newcastle.
However, historically, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it is this type of ‘easy three points’ game that has been United’s undoing and as such this evening’s tie will be a measure of how far the manager has been able to resolve that issue.
Solskjaer’s Plan A is to counter-attack and this has worked well against top sides, but valuable points have been dropped against defensively set-up units.
United’s last four Premier League home games before lockdown were a 0-2 defeat to Burnley, a 0-0 draw against Wolves, a 3-0 win against Watford and that great 2-0 derby win against Man City. Whether that was a gradual improvement that can be sustained or whether the Watford result was a blip will be put to the test against a Sheffield United side that is highly likely to set up deep at Old Trafford tonight to try to contain the Red Devils.
In Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes, Solskjaer has two world class weapons who are both able to unlock stubborn defences, but that in itself is not enough to solve the problem. The Norwegian needs to develop a Plan B tactic that does not rely on pace and getting behind a defence.
Whilst it would be a joy to see Pogba and Fernandes start together this evening and cut through the Sheffield defence with their incredible range of passes, it is also important to see United create chances in other ways that demonstrate improved tactical versatility.
Solskjaer may be the most universally popular United boss since Sir Alex Ferguson, but for many the jury is still out on whether he has the tactical nous necessary to be a top manager and take United to the next level. This evening’s game is a perfect opportunity for him to demonstrate that he does.
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