A crazy Premier League season went up a whole level of craziness on Wednesday.
If Manchester United and their fans had started to believe a title charge was gaining momentum, bottom-of-the-table, one-win Sheffield United brought them crashing down to earth.
Needing a victory to return to the top of the table given the formidable Manchester City’s victory on Tuesday, Manchester United fell 2-1 at home as Sheffield United recorded only its second league of the season..
Goals from Kean Bryan and Oliver Burke either side of a header from Harry Maguire were enough to secure the historic victory for Sheffield United, its first away win against Manchester United since December 1973.
It means that United remains second in the table, one point behind rivals Manchester City, while Sheffield United stays bottom, 10 points away from avoiding relegation.
And afterwards, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expressed how “disappointed” he was with the performance after its 13-match unbeaten streak came to an end.
“Disappointed, we couldn’t get to the heights of the last few months’ football we played. Very disappointing, we couldn’t find a solution to their very compact block and good defense,” he said.
“That little spark, that edge, we didn’t have that extra creativity, imagination, the X factor we’ve had – it’s happened, we look at it, agree it is not good enough and go again.
“There is no time to feel sorry for yourself because Saturday you go again, we have Arsenal, we have to forget this, learn from it and move on.”
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Fresh of the back of a dramatic FA Cup victory over fierce rivals Liverpool on Sunday and with the added motivation that it could move above other rivals Manchester City with a win, a home match against lowly Sheffield United looked like a walk in the park.
Not least because the big guns of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba were in the starting line-up.
However, despite dominating possession throughout, the group of Manchester United superstars lacked inspiration and creativity to unlock the stout Sheffield defense, who came into the game with the worst record, after 19 matches, in Premier League history.
And it was the bottom-of-the-table team that eventually stunned its host to take the lead, Bryan’s first-half glancing header for the Yorkshire side sneaking past David De Gea in the Manchester United goal.
Martial had an equalizer ruled out as Maguire was adjudged to have fouled Sheffield goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, but he eventually drew the sides level, heading in just past the hour mark.
And despite the home side piling on the pressure, the Sheffield United defense made up of three centre-backs – Chris Basham, Ethan Ampadu and 38-year-old Phil Jagielka – remained resolute, contributing 18 clearances between them.
Eventually, the porous Manchester United defense cracked, as Burke’s 74th deflected winner sent the away side into jubilation, as it secured just its second win of the season.
The matchwinner Burke expressed his delight at the result.
“Amazing result, really was a must-win for us and I’m chuffed for the boys, they put in a great shift. Amazing feeling and amazing for me to get the goal, I am buzzing for the boys and hopefully we can take that into our next games,” the Scotsman said afterwards.
“We showed great courage and great determination. We show great character and never stop, every game we have showed great football but just not taken three points.”
After the defeat, Martial and United defender Axel Tuanzebe were subjected to racist abuse on social media, with a number of racist comments and symbols appearing on old photos on Instagram.
“Everyone at Manchester United is disgusted by the racial abuse received by players via social media after last night’s game,” said the Premier League club in a statement on Thursday.
“We utterly condemn it and it is encouraging to see other fans condemn this on social media also.
“Manchester United has zero tolerance of any form of racism or discrimination and a long-standing commitment to campaigning against it through our All Red All Equal initiative.
“Identifying these anonymous mindless idiots remains problematic. We urge social media platforms and regulatory authorities to strengthen measures to prevent this kind of behaviour.”
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Tuchel takes charge
In addition to the Manchester United defeat, the craziness of this season has been accentuated by reigning champions Liverpool’s drop off in form.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are winless in its past five league games, with its latest poor showing coming when it lost 1-0 at home to Burnley, its first home defeat in 69 Premier League games since losing 1-2 to Crystal Palace in April 2017. It faces Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham on Thursday evening looking to rectify that poor form.
Elsewhere on Wednesday night, a Jordan Pickford howler handed Leicester City an equalizer against Everton, while Thomas Tuchel’s first game as Chelsea boss ended in a drab 0-0 draw with Wolves.