Manchester United’s Premier League title charge looks considerably less credible on Wednesday evening, after a shocking 2-1 home defeat to basement side Sheffield United. The Reds struggled to create chances against their well-drilled opponents, and were punished for some shambolic defending either side of Harry Maguire’s headed equaliser.
United controlled possession from the off, having over eighty percent of the stuff in the opening quarter-hour. However, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side didn’t create much to show for their dominance, their only early chance coming when Marcus Rashford skewed a low Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross wide from the edge of the box.
No team in the Premier League have scored fewer goals than Sheffield United this season, but even they looked more dangerous in attack. Billy Sharp worked some space in the penalty area early on, and had to be denied by David de Gea’s legs.
Midway through the first half, Sheffield United took the lead, coming as former Manchester City youth Kean Bryan leapt to glance a John Lundstram corner inside de Gea’s far post. For the second time in as many league games, United were trailing against a relegation struggler, and Sheffield United looked considerably more capable of holding their lead than Fulham had.
Suggestions that Sharp might have fouled de Gea before Bryan headed home were made more controversial when Anthony Martial tucked a United corner home a few minutes later. This time, the referee blew up and awarded Sheffield United a free-kick, adjudging Maguire to have fouled Blades keeper Aaron Ramsdale in the build-up. Replays showed the decision to be rather soft, and, worse still, inconsistent.
However, the rather more pressing issue was that United hadn’t done anything like enough to break down a typically dogged Sheffield United. The Reds started the second half with more promise, with Mason Greenwood firing wide of the far post after being threaded through by a slide-rule Bruno Fernandes pass.
It took until five minutes past the hour, but eventually United mustered an equaliser. It was again the product of a set-piece, coming as Maguire superbly slipped his marker to power a floated Alex Telles corner past Ramsdale.
Edinson Cavani was immediately thrown into the fray as Solskjær chased a winner, but Sheffield United had other ideas. With 15 minutes left to play, some inexplicably poor defending from United allowed their visitors acres of space on the counter-attack, and after several attempts at stabbing the ball goalwards, an unmarked Oli McBurnie lashed a powerful shot straight at Axel Tuanzebe, who deflected it past de Gea and into the net.
Donny van der Beek and Luke Shaw were introduced for Tuanzebe and Telles, as United desperately tried to salvage something. However, Sheffield United held out for only their second win of the season so far. Considered in light of Manchester City’s recent 4-0 and 5-0 wins over Crystal Palace and West Brom respectively, and you can’t help but conclude that this is the kind of game that champions don’t lose.