Service, Sander and football without fans: Heroes and villains from Sheffield United v Manchester City

Sheffield United slipped to their latest defeat of the Premier League season this afternoon when Manchester City ran out 1-0 winners at Bramall Lane.

By Danny Hall
Saturday, 31st October 2020, 5:00 pm

But who (and in this case, what) were the ‘heroes and villains’ of the day?

Our man Danny Hall puts forward four candidates, including a Bramall Lane old boy and an ongoing problem for the Blades...

The service

Somewhat predictably, much of the post-match social media anger and ire was directed once again at Oli McBurnie, with Rhian Brewster also copping for some of it after three games as a Blades player.

It's only a humble opinion but I'm not sure what more either could have really done. United's crossing didn't give them a sniff against City's multi-million backline and only once in the entire game did United really punch their way through, when Sander Berge crossed for John Lundstram late in the day.

McBurnie was evidently frustrated - his body language made that abundantly clear - and the player with more victories in aerial duels than any other didn't seem to have that many chances to focus on that particular strength.

United instead turned down so many chances to cross the ball in favour of working it again and again, by which time City's defenders were 'set' and well placed to repel anything that did eventually come into their box.

Deflated Oli McBurnie of Sheffield Utd after defeat to Man City: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Kyle Walker

A class act throughout the game, and especially after scoring against his boyhood club and barely mustering any kind of celebration at all.

Inwardly he will have been buzzing, no doubt. But it was good to see that, despite all the fame, money and titles he has earned since leaving Bramall Lane many moons ago, there is still a deep affection and respect for all that the Blades did for him in getting him to where he is now.

Even at 30, Walker is still a remarkable athlete and caused United problems down the City right, with his speed and tenacity. One can only wonder how he would fare as a right centre-half in United's system... although he will no doubt feel that he has much more to offer at the top of the Premier League just yet.

Scorer Kyle Walker of Manchester City is congratulated by Pep Guardiola: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Sander Berge

A quieter game today for the big Norwegian, which is no disgrace at all considering the stature of the midfielders he was up against.

But he once again showed why his reputation seems to be growing by the week, and the move down the right which saw him completely mug off Joao Cancelo before crossing for Lundstram in the centre deserved to be rewarded with a goal.

It's a shame that Ethan Ampadu didn't really seize the chance to make that position at the base of midfield his own, and he wouldn't be able to play against Chelsea even if he had.

So that leaves the dilemma of whether to put Berge back to that position, or leave him on the right and let him maraud at Chelsea as he did so efficiently when the Blues were beaten at Bramall Lane last season.

Football without fans

There was a little spell that United had in the second half, when they began to find a bit of confidence and string a few passes together.

But they couldn't make the most of it and go ahead, and City cruised to victory from then on in.

Imagine that scenario with supporters. Tens of thousands of Blades would have screamed themselves hoarse at that moment in particular, and United's players would have surely responded.

Instead, City played out the rest of the game as if it was a training game and their superior quality told.

United's crowd is a huge leveller, capable of boosting their players to a level in which they can compete with the likes of City and Liverpool (as evidenced last season).

On their day, the Blades can still put teams to the sword without fans. We saw that last season when they battered Chelsea at the Lane.

But there is little doubt that behind closed doors football is affecting United more than any other team in the league - but it looks like that won't be changing anytime soon, so they'll have to get used to it sooner rather than later if they are to survive and thrive in the Premier League.