Manchester United’s comeback against Sheffield United was proof that there is hope in the rebuilding project under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, although it will continue to take valuable time. The Red Devils found themselves in an all-too-familiar hole against a team where they would have been expected to beat even on the road. Goals from John Fleck and Lys Mousset put the Blades ahead before the revival came from the visitors at Bramall Lane.
Encouragingly for Solskjaer, Brandon Williams began the comeback after making a run up the field from left-back before providing a crisp finish. Mason Greenwood converted from close range before Marcus Rashford put United ahead, notching his seventh Premier League goal of the season.
All three goals came from academy products that the club have invested time and money into developing, and have repaid the faith on the pitch. Rashford is a proven commodity at this point and is on the way towards stardom – still only at the age of 21. Williams has come into the team and been solid at the back, while Greenwood notched his first Premier League goal in the process. Greenwood’s improvement more than most could be vital to United this season given their lack of attacking resources following the departures of Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku.
Although Solskjaer would have been thrilled with the comeback, he will have been massively disappointed to allow the Blades a late leveller. It’s that fragility still that’s holding them back from moving up the table, with the Red Devils currently being backed in the Premier League betting odds at 10/1 to finish in the top four. Securing a Champions League place would be a huge achievement given the current quality of the squad, despite the promising performances of the younger players.
The old guard are holding Solskjaer and his team back in their bid to move forward. Phil Jones endured a nightmare display at Bramall Lane as he was victimised by the pace of Mousset. Jones could not cope and the opener from the Blades was down to his failure to clear the danger. He was substituted at half-time and he may not get another opportunity. Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah will have strong claims to play ahead of the former England defender and probably should get the nod to phase out the 27-year-old.
Jones has been a symptom of United’s problems over the last seven years. He was signed as a player to build around in the back four but has failed to rise to the occasion. The case of Fred is another recruitment failure as the Brazilian was outclassed in the middle of the park by Fleck and John Lundstram against the Blades. He was signed for £50m, but has not adapted to life in the Premier League at all and has been more of a detriment than a positive factor during his United career.
As Solskjaer begins to phase out the players that have failed to make the grade with fledgling talent from the academy or his own buys in January, it’s only then will United be able to see whether their patience in the Norwegian will have been worth it. It will take time, but it could be the foundation of a massive step forward in the future. However, another draw against a recently promoted side – Aston Villa – won’t have helped his cause as performances and results need to improve sooner rather than later.