Strange isn’t it? At Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium just after Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal, it was fascinating watching a Malaga side determined to leave the home of the Spanish Champions with a point. It was more enthralling late on when the away side were reduced to nine men, which is effectively eight outfield players and yet the Catalan side couldn’t fathom a way through to goal.
Questions would abound at full time regardless the absentees in the Barca team but it certainly was not for a lack of trying. The Spanish Champions rained 29 shots at the opposition goal without success. It’s hard to pick a one word review for the contest if given the choice between ‘unlucky’ or ‘inefficient’.
Perhaps the same difficulty would arise if one was to evaluate Manchester United’s performance against Arsenal on Saturday lunchtime in light of the result at full time. Except that in this case, United have previous! And quite recent previous.
Saturday was the first time since April 1992 that the 20 time Champions of England have failed to win three straight successive home games. Astonishingly, all match reviews after the games against Stoke, Burnley and indeed Arsenal have are synonymous with a touch of ill-fortune for the home side.
The question though is just how far can you stretch the argument of ill-luck and at what point does the answer lie elsewhere, such as say, inefficiency? Is it enough for well paid professionals and a world class manager to get behind the microphone each week and simply point to the imperfections of this world as the explanation? Does fate have a had in sporting results? We’ve heard commentators yell out over the microphone during in-game commentary with lines such as ”Some things are just meant to be!”.
In fairness, there are games of football when, to the naked eye at least, it appears that the result has already been pre-written in the stars and therefore no amount of effort by one side can change the outcome. The kind of game that Louis van Gaal christened under Murphy’s Law. The ball will bounce off the backside of the referee and out of play if it has to. But is that enough of an explanation? Is it even viable?
For Manchester United in 2016/17, the season is slowly leaning towards a succession of results that can be explained away logically or illogically to ill-luck. I do believe though that a title winning manager will engineer ways to make his own luck as soon as it starts to feel like the natural winds have changed course against his sail. Why? Because you’re either a team that is so efficient in front of goal that any perceived bad luck at the other end is immaterial (winning scores of 3-2, 4-2, 4-3) or you’re so efficient at the back that you can see out a narrow results (winning scores of 1-0 and 2-1) such that the profligacy in front of goal doesn’t really hurt you.
At the moment, United are neither and therefore conveniently choose to blame luck or lack of it, anyway, as the reason for their poor run of results in the league. In a league where the margins are closer than ever before, what chance have you when you can neither succeed at the back nor the front?
Against Stoke, Burnley and Arsenal, United win the lot of they put away just half of the chances created in each of those games, giving them six more points than they currently do. Against Stoke and Arsenal, United see out a precious result if they efficiently shut up shop at the back giving them four more points than they do at this stage.
As it is, it appears to me that United have a fragile mentality at either end of the pitch, so much so that they cannot get through the crucial in-game periods that really matter. That seems like a more logical conclusion to the current situation than any allegations of ill-luck. Admittedly, to the naked eye, it does feel like something in the air is not quite in sync with what United are doing at the moment but we can’t simply write off an entire season on that premise can we?
There is a term for persons that keep repeating the same things expecting different results. I’d like to think it’s far from how to describe the current situation at United. What do you think?