Manchester United travelled to Bramall Lane this evening to take on Sheffield United, fresh from a comeback win against Brentford just before the two-week international break.
Erik ten Hag would have undoubtedly been hoping that his side’s fightback to recover from Brentford’s opening goal before going on to clinch all three points would be the catalyst to finally get United’s season on track.
The Dutchman started Andre Onana in goal, with a defensive four of Diogo Dalot, Harry Maguire, Jonny Evans and Victor Lindelof ahead of the Cameroonian.
Ten Hag put his trust in a midfield trio consisting of Sofyan Amrabat, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes.
Rasmus Hojlund started up front with Antony and Marcus Rashford on either wing of the attacking line.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 2-1 win against Sheffield United.
Uninspiring first-half performance
Ten Hag’s men were below par during the opening 45 minutes.
They hardly fashioned any clear-cut goalscoring opportunities or created good chances for Hojlund to attack. The Danish striker cut a very lonely figure up front for large parts of the first period.
Even more disappointing was United’s failure to control the game, which allowed Sheffield United to go about their business comfortably without much fuss.
At times, it looked like the players were only launching hopeful balls to the forward men and expecting them to make something out of nothing.
The first half was mostly chaotic and lacked any semblance of order that United could capitalize on.
Sheffield United had the chance to take an early lead just three minutes in but Onana came up with a huge save to prevent his side from conceding.
The Red Devils took the lead against the run of play via McTominay, who somehow managed to guide the ball into the back of the net from a densely populated box.
However, as is the norm with United, they surrendered their one-goal advantage just six minutes after through Oli McBurnie, who converted his penalty with ease after McTominay turned from hero to villain with a hand ball in the area.
So far this season, United have been unconvincing and have produced extremely poor displays that have in turn hindered the club from getting good results. There is a lot of work to be done on the training ground.
It’s concerning that at this stage of his tenure at Old Trafford, there is still no clarity on what Ten Hag’s style of play consists of. Everything just seems disjointed and unsure.
Poor midfield dynamics
So far this term, there has been plenty of debate about how United’s midfield should be structured.
During United’s opening games of the season, the Fernandes, Casemiro and Mason Mount partnership came under intense criticism for their inability to gel and make an impact.
Casemiro’s absence due to injury made it almost necessary to start Amrabat. McTominay’s heroics against Burnley were seemingly enough, at least in Ten Hag’s eyes, to hand the Scotland international a start vs. Sheffield United.
As a three, Amrabat, McTominay and Fernandes were poor.
Amrabat did not show the grit that characterises his game. The Moroccan failed to stamp his authority in the middle of the park. He came close to scoring in the second half when his powerful shot hit the bar but apart from that, he didn’t do much.
Apart from the goal and conceding the penalty, McTominay did nothing else of note. He was mostly missing from action and it’s no surprise the 26-year-old was among the first to be taken off by Ten Hag.
Fernandes’ main faults lay in his inability to keep the ball. He was wasteful in possession, either by needlessly attempting a Hollywood pass or being unaware of an incoming rival player looking to snatch the ball from him.
Overall, United’s midfielders were not up to the required standards and it’s hardly puzzling just how much better the team looked after Christian Eriksen’s introduction.
Initially, there was no control whatsoever, no sufficient build-up and no recognizable patterns of play. It’s on Ten Hag and his coaching staff to quickly find a solution lest the team continues to suffer and be outdone by opponents.
Further injury concerns in the defensive department
United’s woes with respect to injuries suffered by defenders are set to be compounded after Evans was taken off against Sheffield United.
Evans delved into a tackle but came out injured from it.
He was immediately replaced by Raphael Varane, who himself is likely not fully fit seeing as he started on the bench rather than being named in the starting XI.
Should Evans be sidelined for a prolonged period, he will join the likes of Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Tyrell Malacia and Lisandro Martinez on the treatment table.
There are also doubts about Sergio Reguilon’s fitness, given that the Spaniard was not even in the matchday squad.
Ten Hag is down to the bare bones with regard to defenders and cannot afford to lose any more members of the backline. Hopefully, it’s nothing serious and Evans’ substitution was only a precaution.