Pre-Match Review | Manchester United (H)
Sheffield United vs Manchester United 24/11/2019
English Premier League
With home advantage and in better form than Sunday’s opponents, should Blades fans see themselves as favourites for this one?
Last Time Out
Manchester United 1 (Rooney 90+3 Pen) - Sheffield United 0 09/01/2016
FA Cup 3rd Round
I can remember watching this game in a pub with some friends and the general consensus being ‘this is a really shit game of football’.
Both clubs were in states of crisis, so to speak. Louis Van Gaal consistently appeared to be a handful of games away from losing his job. His ponderous style of play bored supporters and pundits to death, and all of this was being carried out with a squad that, on paper, looked like it could perform better.
Sheffield United were in their 5th season in League One and were 9th at the time. We had Martin Woolford and Dean Hammond in midfield, Conor Sammon was playing up front and Nigel Adkins in charge who would take the club to their lowest league position since 1983.
It looked like the tie was going to a replay and back to Bramall Lane until fan favourite Dean Hammond took down Depay, deep into injury time, and Rooney scored the subsequent penalty. It wasn’t a game to look back on, they were shit, and we were shit, but we probably deserved to take it to a replay.
Van Gaal would go on to win the FA Cup that season, but it wasn’t enough to stop him losing his job almost immediately afterwards. He was replaced by Jose Mourinho. (I wonder what he’s up to these days.)
The Blades would also change managers at the end of this campaign after yet another disappointing season, they appointed Chris Wilder, and the rest is history.
Summer at Manchester United
Notable Ins: Harry Maguire (£80m, Leicester City), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£45m, Crystal Palace), Daniel James (£15m, Swansea City)
Notable Outs: Romelu Lukaku (£70m, Internazionale), Matteo Darmian (£1.3m, Parma), Alexis Sanchez (Loan, Internazionale), Dean Henderson (Loan Extended, Sheffield United), Chris Smalling (Loan, Roma), Ander Herrera (Free, Paris Saint-Germain), Antonio Valencia (Free, LDU Quito), James Wilson (Free, Aberdeen)
Manchester United have struggled to implement any clear strategy since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013. However, the club has always had a preference for players who come through their academy. At least one graduate has always been in the match-day squad since October 1937.
Their buying policy appears to be developing a pattern too. Rather than the scattergun/any player available from an ‘elite club’ approach we have seen in previous years, there is more of a focus towards British talent.
Daniel James would have probably got Leeds United automatic promotion instead of us had he signed for them in January. He has been one of Manchester United’s better players so far this season. If it wasn’t for Trent Alexander-Arnold, Aaron Wan-Bissaka would probably be considered the best English right back at the moment. The signing of Harry Maguire feels like a transfer that the Manchester United of old would have done. A player who immediately improves the team and (in theory) weakens their direct rivals. Although Caglar Soyuncu probably has something to say about that.
They have faced criticism in letting two forwards go in Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, and not signing a direct replacement, but Solskjaer holds academy graduate Mason Greenwood in high regard and deems him as sufficient enough backup to Martial and Rashford, at least until they sign Mario Mandzukic.
Manchester United’s Recent Form
After the bitterly disappointing defeat to Newcastle United in early October, Solskjaer’s side looked to have turned a corner, being unbeaten in 6 out of their last seven games, results include a draw against Liverpool, which they probably should have won.
They won 3 on the spin after the game against their biggest rivals before losing to Bournemouth at the start of November, which seemed just to put the pressure back on Solskjaer and Manchester United all over again. The defeat at the vitality was followed up by 3-0 and 3-1 wins over Partizan Belgrade and Brighton & Hove Albion respectively.
Whilst their form may be padded out by positive results in a relatively weak Europa League group; all Manchester United need to do at the moment is win football matches and show the footballing world that there’s still signs of life in a comatose giant. The scrutiny will only intensify now that the much-admired Mauricio Pochettino is available.
Injuries have played their part, a decent-sized chunk of the squad has been out for most of the season so far. One of those being Paul Pogba who despite all the problems in regards to his commitment to the club, is still technically their best player.
On the fitness of John Egan
"He has a chance - we’re going to leave it to the last minute, but we’ve got replacements if needed. If John isn’t fit Phil will slot in there, and his experience in big games will be huge.”
On current form
“The key is always going to be to look at the next game and never past it. Yeah, we’re 5th, but in terms of points, there is nothing in it. We’re only 12 games in, our players will not get big-headed, they wouldn’t let themselves and I wouldn’t let them either.”
On Sir Alex Ferguson
“Sir Alex used to phone me as a young manager, he’d take the time out to help me out along the way. He used to do it to quite a few young British managers. I remember a time at Oxford, we had a big game the next day, he got in touch, and stuff like that gave me a huge boost.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
"Scotty [McTominay] hurt his ankle and will be out for a couple of weeks, we've lost [Marcos] Rojo to injury and Paul [Pogba] is still injured, but we've got Axel [Tuanzebe], Luke [Shaw] and Nemanja [Matic] back in training, so we're looking better, we're getting numbers back. Maybe they're not match fit - Axel, Luke and Nemanja have been out for a long time - but we've got numbers in training, and we're stronger."
On Dean Henderson being unavailable for selection.
"Very (happy he's not playing on Sunday), Dean’s done really well for them, Sheffield United has been really good for him, Simon the second keeper I had at Cardiff is still a good goalie." -
Opposition Style of Play
Ever since the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment in December 2018, the Norweigian has spoken of how he wants Manchester United to play in a way that excites the supporters. He wants his team to fit in with the identity of Manchester United, going back to the days of Sir Alex Ferguson and even Sir Matt Busby.
Players were liberated, and the shackles were taken off after Mourinho’s reign of terror and Solskjaer himself looked to have had a bit more about him tactically rather than just a management style that seemed to be talking about the days of Sir Alex and 1990s.
In January’s away win over Tottenham Hotspur, Solskjaer played a 4-4-2 diamond with Jesse Lingard at the tip of it. Martial and Rashford were the centre forwards who would pull wide, and Lingard would then wander into a false nine position, dragging players out of position to create space for United’s pacy hitmen to run into.
Even in the famous win over Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc De Princes, Solskjaer showed that he was able to manage a game, with the tie in the balance and Thomas Tuchel’s side looking like they were turning the screw. Solskjaer switched to a 5-4-1 and frustrated them, before being able to counter-attack and win a penalty which led to them qualifying for the quarter-finals in extraordinary circumstances and Solskjaer to be given the job permanently.
So far this season we have seen backs 3’s and 4's from Manchester United. The back 3 appears to be a tactic used due to the number of injuries in midfield or a specific plan for a specific team (i.e. Liverpool), however, with injuries piling up, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one on Sunday.
A 4-2-3-1 would be the formation you’d expect them to play with Rashford and Martial switching from the wide left into central positions, countering at speed and getting the ball into wide positions, something those who have grown up under the Ferguson years would associate with Manchester United.
...2-1, home win.
Sheffield United to win at 5/2 (SkyBet); Over 2.5 Goals, Over 10.5 Corners, Over 35 Booking Points at 11/2 (SkyBet)
It appears that our team picks itself at the moment, with Moore in for the ineligible Henderson and Jags for Egan if he doesn't make it.