Manchester United 4 Sheffield United 2 – vital Fernandes, more errors and a low block

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Manchester United 4 Sheffield United 2 – vital Fernandes, more errors and a low block

Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United delivered another chaotic but ultimately victorious performance as they beat the Premier League’s bottom team Sheffield United 4-2 at Old Trafford.

Sheffield United took the lead when Andre Onana’s attempted pass across his own box to Diogo Dalot was intercepted by Jayden Bogle who scored the opener.

Harry Maguire headed in Alejandro Garnacho’s low cross to equalise and in the process scored the 1,085th goal scored by all teams in the Premier League this season, a record.

Ben Brereton Diaz put Sheffield United back ahead only for Bruno Fernandes to equalise from the penalty spot when referee Michael Salisbury blew for a foul just before Dalot bundled the ball home.

And Fernandes smashed home from 30 yards in the 81st minute to win the game before Rasmus Hojlund added a fourth to leave them sixth, three points clear of Newcastle United who lost to Crystal Palace.

Here The Athletic’s Mark Critchley explains the main talking points

Where would Manchester United be without Bruno Fernandes?

It is now seven goals in his last six league appearances for Bruno Fernandes, with at least one in all of his last four.

The United captain can sometimes be viewed as a symbol of this side, and not in a good way — he is characterised as a rash, impulsive player who tries to do everything too quickly, then moans and complains when things do not go his way.

But that is an ungenerous view, overlooking not just his importance to everything United do but also his willingness to take responsibility and carry Ten Hag’s side when it needs him.

He has done just that in recent weeks, uplifting several mediocre performances, perhaps no more so than tonight with a coolly-taken penalty and his superb second.

This recent run of form, where Fernandes has dragged his team-mates along with him during games, is precisely why he was given the armband by Ten Hag last summer and his captain has been repaying that faith.

How did they concede this time?

Manchester United were ultimately held because of two defensive lapses of the sort we have seen all season — an individual error and a collective breakdown.

Which individual was at fault for the first? It is hard to make an argument against most of the blame lying with Andre Onana, who has dug United out of several holes in recent weeks but landed them in one this time with a loose pass across his box.

At the same time, Diogo Dalot was not especially quick at reading the intention behind Onana’s pass and then was slow to recover the loose ball, allowing Jayden Bogle to pounce.

Sheffield United’s second came from a common thread running throughout United’s season, one that simply will not go away: conceding from cut-backs. Since conceding their very first goals of the campaign at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium back in August, the problem has reared its head over and over again.

The amount of disruption that injuries have caused — particularly in defence — cannot have helped the understanding but when Gustavo Hamer dragged three United players with him before turning to play Ben Osborn down the left, you knew what was coming. It is a persistent issue that Ten Hag has shown little sign of fixing.

Why do they struggle against low blocks?

Think of your typical Manchester United performance over the last few months and it has not usually involved having to break down a low block.

Ten Hag’s side have become used to turning games into helter-skelter back and forth affairs with plenty of space for both sides to play into but this was the second of three games in a week where the opposition wouldn’t play ball.

For a team out of practice with having to be patient and probe gaps, United still racked up the shot count on Sunday against Coventry City — with 28 in 120 minutes — and again this evening with 25.

Even if they were not all brilliantly clear-cut opportunities, United created enough to break down the door and force their way to three points.

United have been playing most of this season on one setting: quick, direct counter-attacking. But they need another to become a more rounded, complete side. This was a reminder they can still bludgeon their way to a win.

What did Ten Hag say?

We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.

What next for Manchester United?

Saturday, April 27: Burnley (H), Premier League, 3pm BST, 10am ET

Burnley make the short trip to Old Trafford with the scent of Premier League survival in their nostrils, having lost just once in seven league games to move within three points of fourth-bottom Nottingham Forest with four matches each to play. United won the reverse fixture 1-0 in September and have been beaten by their northern neighbours from Turf Moor only once in 17 meetings over the past 14 years.

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 (Photo: Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)