Hits and Misses: See all sides of Man Utd
Keep watching Man Utd, it's show time
If, and it's an if with the added uncertainty of when to play the catch-up game, Manchester United wins their game in hand on the leaders, United will be just two points behind Liverpool in the Premier League table. Unless you believe that Man City and Chelsea, who are now behind United in the league table, aren't really competitive, it's hard to find a way to deny that United are really title contenders right now.
But enough about what Man Utd could be. It's what Man Utd is doing right now that's a lot more fun: maybe not the best team in the country, but certainly the most observable.
Fun teams come in many forms. This United team's specialty is entertaining in many ways. Not only does United stumble from one game to the next from the sublime to the ridiculous, but they usually manage to get both of them in the same game.
At Bramall Lane Thursday night, United forgot to show up in the first ten minutes and then scored three in third gear. He boasted of class and arrogance before nearly snapping a tie on defeat, but Dean Henderson made an excellent save. With this particular Man Utd team, it's well worth watching the full 90 minutes as you never know exactly what they're going to do next.
Sunday, December 20, 4:15 p.m.
Start at 4:30 p.m.
The problem, of course, is the nagging feeling that a catastrophe or crisis may not be far ahead either. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ended up with Yorkshire on Thursday by describing Leeds' visit that Sunday as a "massive game, a big derby for us, we've been waiting for this game for years". Best not to lose.
Three days later it's a trip to Everton for the Carabao Cup. After so many years without cutlery and three defeats in the semi-finals last season, you shouldn't lose these either. All in all, this is a tremendous week for Man Utd. To be honest, we've said that once or twice this season.
The next episode of United's 2020-21 Magical Mystery Tour is still on a flight, but United has been more of a roller coaster than a runaway train this season so far. Hold on tight because we'll find out what they really are soon enough.
The blades bounce back despite defeat
"We weren't in a good place on Sunday night (against Southampton) on Sunday night and rightly because I didn't enjoy that I didn't enjoy seeing my team, it was very different from us."
"So I think Ole and his coaching staff and the players would accept that we would try to make it competitive tonight and show a reaction … In many ways it was (more like Sheffield United). It was Forefoot, it was aggressive, (but) we are disappointed with the goals we conceded. "
Chris Wilder's men looked like a shadow of their former selves after a 3-0 Southampton sacking over the weekend. A reaction was needed and it was the daunting prospect of Man Utd on their victorious form.
Sunday, December 20, 11:30 a.m.
Start at 12:00 p.m.
But a team more like the old blades stepped onto the field on Thursday. Sheffield United faced Man Utd in the first half in particular, with Oliver Burke and David McGoldrick shining up front after a return to the team.
It was the couple who teamed up for the first goal. Burke snatched the ball off Dean Henderson's feet and tucked it back so McGoldrick could return home. The striker then did well to take Sheffield United second place, albeit with a little helping hand from Victor Lindelof's face.
Yes there have been three goals conceded but don't forget they did the same against Man Utd at Bramall Lane last season when they scored a late equalizer. They couldn't conjure up the same spirit this time – Henderson wasn't quite looking for his previous squad to give Lys Mousset a late equalizer – but the fight, the desire, and a touch of quality were there.
Let's hope the busy Christmas season turns into hot spots soon, so save the blades season.
The new and improved meanest defense in the top division
When last season was temporarily disrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak, Aston Villa were on their way to relegation, largely due to their leaking defenses.
During the forced hiatus, manager Dean Smith and his coaching staff, including former Chelsea and England center-back John Terry, worked with the players on the training ground and achieved spectacular results.
When Villa got back into action in June they were another beast that was far harder to score against and it was this improvement on the back that went a long way in keeping the club in the Premier League.
And the team has continued that defensive solidity this season until now, with Burnley knocking out most of the top teams at home for the sixth time this season on Thursday.
Pope makes a strong claim to be England's number 1
The debate over who is the best goalkeeper in England has been raging on a national level for some time, but here too, Burnley's Nick Pope at Villa Park showed why his name is always at odds.
The # 1 Clarets giant was in unbeatable form in the Midlands, producing a series of brilliant stops to keep the home team in check. At the same time, he made everything he did look ridiculously easy, which is a mark of a world-class goalkeeper.
Monday, December 21, 5:00 p.m.
Start at 5:30 p.m.
The goalkeeper's best moment came when he hit Anwar El Ghazi's curling free kick against the crossbar in the first half en route to the club's 31st Premier League tie.
And that's the second most common from an English gunshot stopper after guessing who? Yes, the man he wants to replace as England No. 1 at next summer's European Championship, Jordan Pickford, who has made 34 high-profile failures.
The strange story of the stats after the game
Are post-game stats worth the link they're posted on?
On Tuesday night, West Brom drew in Man City despite having only 23 percent possession and scored 26 shots. On Wednesday Tottenham had only 24 percent possession in Liverpool and had to face 17 shots. And on Thursday night Burnley, who had only won at Arsenal on Sunday with only 35 percent possession and only scored one shot on goal, drew a draw against a team from Aston Villa, which dominated the action and scored 27 shots on goal but could not score with any of them.
All of that meant everything and nothing. West Brom's hierarchy may even have these sobering game stats in mind as they responded to outrage at just taking a point in Man City by firing their manager. Tottenham's manager, however, glossed over the same numbers to claim his side outperformed Liverpool on the night despite the numerical dominance of the opposition, while Burnley celebrated for his win at Arsenal despite doing as little as ten men in 30 minutes will presumably now described as lucky for a point in villa. Which of course they were.
But the point has remained throughout the week that football's ever-curious relationship with statistics, especially post-game, is more curious than ever. Hugged one night, thrown away and ignored the next. Because of this, three more or less identical characters can draw remarkably different narrations after the game.
As for Burnley, the week's relief was a noticeable move up the table and an escape from the relegation zone. Undefeated in their last three games, they have frustrated and denied Everton, Arsenal and Aston Villa. It's been an impressive turn since they beat Man City 5-0 in late November. Speaking of which, what happened that night? In retrospect, it's interesting to note that Burnley only scored six shots on goal and had nine of his own in City. Based on this week's comment, they must have played pretty well. In fact, the post-game stats seem to pretty much insist that they played better in a 5-0 loss than they did in a 1-0 win or a 0-0 draw.
Everything and nothing.