Sheffield United's problem-solving earns plaudits but not points

At times football in this weird, unsatisfying behind-closed-doors era can feel like a bit of a training exercise, and for 30 minutes at Bramall Lane, that was certainly the case.

Saturday's lunchtime kick-off quickly became an endurance test the Blades were unable to come through. Once Manchester City took the lead, through Kyle Walker of all people, the Blades did a good job of solving the problems the grandmaster of footballing chess, Pep Guardiola was posing them.

It was another honourable defeat for the Blades but after eight games without this season, they could do with any sort of win – dishonourable if needs be. Chris Wilder has been stuck on 99 as Sheffield United manager longer than a cricket batsman feeling the nervous 90s.

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Played in increasingly heavy rain, the home side were pinned deep in their own half, wing-backs George Baldock and Max Lowe forced to play as full-backs as Manchester City, with Cancelo playing on the left of midfield in what became a Manchester City 3-1-3-3 formation which allowed them to have 78 per cent of the ball.

FRUSTRATION: Sheffield United's George BaldockFRUSTRATION: Sheffield United's George Baldock
FRUSTRATION: Sheffield United's George Baldock

Perhaps the Blades, with Rhian Brewster dropping into midfield at times, were too passive in the first 30 minutes but in all probability they did not have much choice. It is hard to dictate terms to Kevin de Bruye, brave to the point of foolish to give Raheem Sterling too much space to run into.

City quietly upped the water torture until after 28 minutes, Walker marked his 100th game for them with a goal on his home ground.

Sterling had broken through the lines, running past Chris Basham and John Egan, and Cancelo wide on the left picked out Walker to drive the ball into the net.

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Until then, Aaron Ramsdale had done his best to keep the sky blue hordes at bay, saving a Ferran Torres header and almost spilling a Rodrigo ball over his bar, although he could be forgiven for not producing the most graceful handling to a ball which must by then have been very wet.

He also denied Torres at close range after a brilliant link-up between Cancelo and Sterling down the left, and watched Aymeric Laporte head wide at a corner and Riyad Mahrez shoot over.

It took 15 minutes for the Blades wing-backs to make any attacking impact, and then Lowe's first cross was cut out and his second a couple of minutes later ended in the hands of Ederson.

At the end of the first half the sun came out Chris Wilder's men managed to get higher up the field but when Baldock crossed, there was no one to pick out, and Brewster could only glance Sander Berge's delivery. In between time Basham got a head to a corner, but Walker helped it behind.

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City just went from looking dangerous on the counter-attack instead of the front foot, usually down the left, and it took an excellent slide tackle from Baldock to hold them off.

Ramsdale came out of his goal to deny Torres early in the second half, de Bruyne drove narrowly wide after Walker got to the byline, and the goalkeeper needed a strong hand from a Mahrez free-kick but generally the second half was much better and more familiar for Sheffield United, concentrating their attacks down the right as Basham, Baldock and Berge got forward to good effect.

The pair linked up well on the hour, Basham cutting inside, passing the ball to Baldock, who in turn released Berge for a cross that was cut out. It look the most likely avenue for an equaliser, although any route was a long shot.

The chance did come – from the right – but when it did, John Lundstram fluffed it.

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The midfielder was dropped to the bench at the end of the week the Blades publicly put him up for sale, but he was the first man Wilder turned to to change the game. After 70 minutes Berge nutmegged Cancelo, got to the byline and pulled the ball back for Lundstram, who hit his shot over and immediately put his head in his hands.

Released by a beautiful de Bruyne pass, Sterling danced along the byline but when he tried to force the ball across, it bounced off Basham to Ramsdale and the 1-0 was locked in.

Containing an inspired City is no mean feat, and one the Blades can take confidence from. It is a shame for them you do not get points for that.

Sheffield United: Ramsdale; Baldock, Basham, Egan, Stevens, Lowe (McGoldrick 81); Berge, Ampadu (Norwood 65), Osborn (Lundstram 55); Brewster, McBurnie.

Unused substitutes: Sharp, Burke, Robinson, Verrips.

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Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte; Rodri; De Bruyne, Bernardo, Cancelo; Mahrez (Gundogan 85), Torres (Foden 81), Sterling.

Unused substitutes: Stones, Ake, Zinchenko, Trafford, García.

Referee: M Oliver (Ashington).

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