Sheffield United v Manchester United
Venue: Bramall Lane
Referee: Michael Oliver
Sheffield United host Manchester United this Thursday evening, with Chris Wilder’s side still looking for their first win of the Premier League season.
It’s been an outrageous turnaround in the wrong direction for the Blades, when you consider there were talks about European football at the end of last season. The long-term injury to Jack O’Connell has proven pivotal to the overall decline of the Blades’ form, but it seems that the opposing managers in the league have sussed out the formation and tactical approach of Chris Wilder’s team. It’s also not been helped by their almost non-existent goal threat this season.
As for the visitors, United can surprisingly put some pressure on the league’s front runners with a win. The last match of gameweek 13, a win could see them go within two points of the likes of Tottenham or Liverpool with a victory. They’ve not lost in five league matches, at which time they currently have the best form in the league. Hard to believe, when you consider Ole’s managerial acumen has been questioned throughout the season. With five away wins out of five for the Red Devils, they’ll enter this fixture full of confidence, even without a win in their last two matches in all competitions. The best form in the league vs the worst form in the league. Statistically this game can only go one way, but who knows, this is the Premier League; after all.
The Blades have looked a completely different side without the team’s talisman Jack O’Connell, who’ has proven irreplaceable at the back. Oliver McBurnie is the only other potential absentee who will more than likely be replaced by the club’s top scorer, David McGoldrick. Sheffield United were built on consistency last season; the same formation week in week out, with only the strikers changing from game to game.
But ultimately, enough is enough for Chris Wilder. Something needs to change, with the formation and style of play needing to be sacrificed to achieve that all-important first win of the season. The club’s problem is that they simply cannot score.
Only three players have scored for the team all season, with the club’s record signing Rhian Brewster yet to get off the mark. The problem he has at the moment is the additional work he’s being asked to do on the pitch. The Sheffield players all work for each other, which made the formation effective in recent years. But to get the best out of the young English striker, it may be a case of giving him the freedom to play his own game. Utilise the pace of Oliver Burke and Lys Mousset on the wings, looking to feed Brewster whenever possible. A box standard 4-3-3 could be the solution to their problems.
The only concern for United this Thursday is the hero of St Marys, Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan striker has missed the previous two matches through injury, and is now unlikely to return to the starting XI following an FA charge for an Instagram story after the Southampton game that “included reference, whether express or implied, to colour and/or race and/or ethnic origin”.
Cavani’s absence from the United starting XI, pending an appeal from the club, will limit Solsjkaer’s options, but with the likes of Martial, Van de Beek, Pogba, McTominay, Telles, Shaw and Matic all being rotated, the Norwegian should not be short of options to plot the demise of Wilder’s side.
The visit of Man City on the weekend saw the Norwegian manager opt for a more compact formation, starving out the midfield in the hope to stop some of the Sky Blues more creative players, such as Kevin De Bruyne. I fully expect a change in approach for the trip to Sheffield. A front three of Rashford, Martial and Greenwood, with Fernandes sitting behind could be a solid combination for United. As for the midfield, I believe Solskjaer will opt for Fred and McTominay to retrieve the ball quickly and nullify any Sheffield United pressure, allowing their pacy attacking players to get in behind the Sheffield defensive line on a regular basis.
Predicted Starting XIs
Sheffield United (3-5-2): Ramsdale, Basham, Egan, Stevens, Baldock, Berge, Ampadu, Fleck, Osborn, Brewster, McGoldrick
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, Fred, McTominay, Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford, Martial
Prediction: Sheffield United 1-1 Manchester United
Manchester United have come under a lot of criticism this season, due to their indifferent form in all competitions. It seems strange when you consider they’re only eight points off top spot with two games in hand. But one loss and all of a sudden the fans and the media are calling for the manager’s head.
Come this Friday I expect to see a similar reaction, as I predict they’ll leave Sheffield with only a point. It may only be twelve games into the season but a loss here and you’d fully expect the Blades to be playing Championship football next season.
Arguably not the best game to pin your hopes of safety towards, but equally I believe playing United could be beneficial. You never know what Manchester United team is going to show up, with the likes of West Brom very unfortunate to lose to them in recent weeks. Some early pressure from Sheffield United and I believe they could catch the Red Devils out. However, with a player like Bruno Fernandes on the pitch, it’s very unlikely you’re keeping a clean sheet. I’m predicting a well-deserved point for the home side.