The frustrating aspect about Manchester United’s form at the moment from fans’ points of view is that you can’t really put a decisive finger on an immediate solution. The problem is quite clearly a dearth of goals. Goals turn draws into victories. The obvious solution would be to create more chances. But Manchester United are not short of goal-scoring opportunities! Indeed, United’s midfield easily ranks as one of the most creative in the league on the basis of chances created.
That, perhaps, modifies the problem to poor finishing. At the start of the season, this was the last concern on anybody’s mind about the state of Manchester United. We expected talk of a failed season, if at all, to be centered around an unbalanced defence. United, however, looked well stocked up front with the star quality of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the emergence of Marcus Rashford. To this were the supplements of last season’s star outfield player Anthony Martial. In new signing Henrikh Mikhitaryan, the promoted Jesse Lingard and the contribution of Juan Mata, United looked well stocked with goals from midfield as well.
More surprisingly, the frustration has largely been around the last four home games over the space of two months. Since United thrashed the Champions 4-1 at Old Trafford, they’ve dominated games against Stoke, Burnley, Arsenal and now West Ham but have come away with a point from each. In that time, they’ve shot no less than 91 times at the opposition goal (quite the improvement from the LVG days) whilst the opposition has shot 26 times at David De Gea.
Now, statistically, a mid-table, half-decent team will score 8-10 goals from the 91 shots United had. United scored a miserly THREE! The same number that the opposition got from their joint tally of 26 shots. This is the embodiment of the frustration that has caused Jose Mourinho into near meltdown and has turned a promising campaign into serious danger of going up in spoke well before Christmas.
And yet, United’s form in the Cup competitions so far has seen them on the brink of one semi-final already. Whilst the club have not really put in the effort in the Europa league, they are a point away from making the last 32 of the competition. In Europe, the goals have gone in! 9 goals in the three home games is a far cry from the club’s form on the same ground but in the premier league. The four goal blitz of Feynoord last week had United in the slightly bemusing position of being listed as favourites to win the Europa League despite having not yet made the next round.
On Wednesday, United have home advantage in the quarterfinal of the EFL Cup against West Ham United. Having dumped out Manchester City in the previous round, it’s fair to say the luck seems more willing in this competition as well. One off Cup games have so far suited a side that looks great on paper but has so far fallen short of the consistency needed to sustain a title challenge.
Despite the frustration of fans at how things have turned out lately, they would gladly take a season that involved a sweep of the winnable Cup competitions. Ultimately, it comes down to how many pots you have come May. As it is, United’s target of Champions League qualification is up for grabs in one of the Cups whilst they are an ear shot away from a major domestic semi-final. It certainly could be worse!