Siao Mates Feb 17

There’s only one United worth talking about, and they aren’t from Manchester


 

It’s not 30 years – yet – but it has been quite a while since Manchester United could claim to be the best team in England. 

 

And despite recent wins at the Etihad Stadium, it has actually been some time since the Red Devils can claim to be the kings of Manchester. 

 

It seems even worse this season: they aren’t even the best team with “United” on their crest. 

 

Calm down Newcastle fans, you lot just got hit for four by an Arsenal side still finding their gears. Right now, that would be Sheffield United. 

 

The Blades are sitting pretty, sixth in the league – four points ahead and three rungs above Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men. They’re joint second in the league in clean sheets (9), behind only the inevitables of Liverpool. Here’s my favourite stat – before the start of the season, Sheffield were the bookmakers’ favourite to drop straight back down into the Championship. 

 

And here they are looking down the table at the storied Devils of Manchester. 

 

I’m struggling to call them United anymore, seeing as they can’t even show basic unity with their manager - Ed Woodard’s PR advisor was spotted alongside Mauricio Pochettino last week - as Solskajaer faces a month that could well see him booted out in favour of the Argentinian. 

Something stinks around here, and it's not Phil Jones.

 

First up is Chelsea, in the early hours of tomorrow morning, then Club Brugge in the Europa League, a competition Man U increasingly seem like they need to win to have any hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League. 

 

Solskjaer’s United may have beaten Chelsea 4-0 at the start of the season, but all that seems so far away now, just like the fourth spot that Chelsea currently hold. 

 

But let’s talk about the real United. 

 

Yes, this is Sheffield’s first season back in the Premier League after a 12-year hiatus, and now they’re only two points behind Chelsea who occupy that coveted last Champions League spot. 

 

With just 13 games left to play, the Blades have a real shout at going from the Championship into the Champions League in two years flat. Meanwhile, in two games, Man U could find themselves well entrenched in the second half of the table. 

 

But fret not, Man U fans, you’re just five points shy of that 40-point mark that has in the past proven enough to stay clear of relegation. 

 

Sure, stats don’t lie, the Blades really are the best United this season, but Chris Wilder’s men seem to bring a whole lot more to the table. They aren’t just a ragtag bunch cobbled together to kick shins and grind out results. 

 

OK, maybe they could come across a little like that.

 

Sheffield spent just £43 million (S78m) bringing in 10 players, including Mo Besic and Oli McBurnie (who, you ask?) to add umph to their Premier League adventure, then splurged a little in January, spending £22 million on Norwegian midfielder Sander Berge (who, again?), to fuel their drive into Europe. 

 

They do play a compact game of football, packing the centre of the park, with robust tackles a regular feature of their game. But United aren’t Vinny Jones’ Wimbledon, nor Joe Royle’s Dogs of War – they’ve got more in the arsenal. 

 

We’re of course talking about Sheffield. You could imagine Ole, on the other hand, wishing that his charges could play with the half the gumption of those Everton and Wimbledon teams. 

 

Chris Wilder’s innovation of overlapping centre-backs has already got the attention of football philosophers Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Marcelo Bielsa. 

 

While the likes of George Baldock and Enda Stevens continue to stretch opposition defences and find their teammates with crosses, Phil Jones - after an 11-year football career – still can’t seem to find his feet. The less said about the strange forms he can stretch his face into, the better. 

 

But here’s perhaps where Sheffield are streets ahead of Man U: they actually are united. There is unity in the dressing room – perhaps forged during fierce and sometimes bloody battles in the lower leagues – and that has translated into character on the pitch. 

 

Throw in a manager who doesn’t care for niceties and still goes down to the local pub, mingling with fans over a pint, and you have a pretty little picture of a tightly knit unit, under an old-school, no-nonsense gaffer armed with a new vision of how football should be played.

 

 That’s almost exactly what Manchester United used to be, no? 

 

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