Four draws at home in a row for the first time in Premier League history for Manchester United as another promising display was to no avail as West Ham’s early goal meant the visitors once again left Old Trafford with a point.
Diafra Sakho’s strike 90 seconds into the game was the earliest ever goal scored at Old Trafford by an opponent in the Premier League era, and it was Jesse Lingard’s reckless foul that led to the goal. Dimitri Payet delivered a superb ball into the box, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasn’t able to get on the ball and Sakho guided it in for the Hammers to take the lead.
After a sluggish response to the goal, United found their way into the game and it was Paul Pogba’s superb ball over the top that set up Ibrahimovic to equalise for the hosts. All their momentum from there was not capitalised on, as the team’s continuing lack of efficiency meant they weren’t able to find a winner.
Concern is rising and panic is setting in, as United move further adrift of the teams above them.
Finishing, Where Art Thou?
Four games at home, a staggering ninety one shots for the Red Devils. For a normal team, even if they are slightly efficient they will score one in ten shots. So safe to assume Manchester United scored around 8-10 goals in those four games? Wrong. They scored three, whilst their opponents scored three of their own with 26 shots.
It feels like groundhog day in Manchester, as neither side in the Premier League (meaning City nor United) have won in the league at home since September. United are stuck in an endless cycle where they cannot develop offensive efficiency. They are creating chances and plenty of them, but have no ability to be clinical.
It’s becoming a problem. United aren’t just dropping points, they’re costing themselves points. It’s not poor luck as much as it’s poor finishing. It isn’t random deflections or anything like that costing United, it’s their own performance in attack.
Selection Frustrations Remain
Jose Mourinho has selected the same front six in all draws against Stoke City, Burnley and West Ham. There may be something symptomatic in that. Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford missed chances, although the former’s was an excellent save by Darren Randolph, who has replaced mainstay Adrian in goal for the Hammers.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s solid display on Thursday Night against Feyenoord only meant he watched the beginning of the game on the bench, alongside the likes of the impressive Wayne Rooney who also couldn’t find his way into the XI, and the returning Bastian Schweinsteiger, who seemed likely to never play for the club again. He’ll likely line up in some capacity against the Hammers in the midweek EFL fixture.
The frustration for fans now is how are the club’s issues fixed. They are clearly not an awful side, they are defending fairly well despite a lack of class and their best defender remains sidelined (Eric Bailly). Once the right attacking formula is found (and perhaps it was to an extent on Thursday), it may all click.
Fans are tiring of waiting though. The noise is growing louder.
Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford experienced terrible afternoons for United, and did not come close to justifying their selection in the XI by Mourinho. The manager’s selections can be judged, but if the players don’t deliver they are just as culpable as the man who puts their faith in him.
Lingard was perhaps the worst player on the park, and twice gave away stupid free kicks in dangerous positions for West Ham. The first was the free kick which led to West Ham’s goal, the second David De Gea was forced to tip over the bar after Dimitri Payet’s fierce effort on goal.
Rashford’s guilt will come from the other end, where he missed a gilt edged chance to put United ahead before halftime after being put through one on one. The English prodigy hasn’t scored in nine games, and although he is playing wide most of the time he is struggling. Perhaps some opportunities to come off the bench against tired defences would suit him better right now, with others pushing hard for selection.
Attack Fails, Midfield Flourishes
Manchester United’s attack is stuttering, but the men getting them the ball have been nothing short of superb lately. Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba are flourishing together in the midfield set up Jose Mourinho has them in at the moment. Despite Michael Carrick’s absence, the two men in the middle dominated and set the tone for the rest of the team.
Herrera seems to have fully grown into the role made for him this season, and has been terrific sitting deep and directing traffic for the attackers in front of him. The Spaniard also has the ability to shuttle the ball to the men ahead of him, and has set the tone at times pressing the opposition into turning the ball over.
His French teammate meanwhile seems to get better by the week and is increasing in confidence. Pogba’s passing and movement were sublime, as he overpowered and glided past his opponents whilst creating for the attackers. His connection with Ibrahimovic seems vital to the Swede’s success.
Those Doubted Continue To Stake Claims
Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian and Ibrahimovic have all come under fire this campaign for various reasons, but continue to perform and at the very least do their jobs that they have been given. It wasn’t Darmian’s best outing as he struggled with Michail Antonio’s physicality, but he wasn’t poor by any means.
Jones and Rojo teamed up well in defence, and both have done a job in the past few weeks. Despite the stigma around both, they’ve been solid enough in the absence of better teammates sitting out with injury. They may not keep their spots, but they’ve done what has been asked of them. It may (for now), save their United careers if they continue to do so.
Ibrahimovic meanwhile has found the back of the net again for United, and perhaps is finding his goalscoring touch. His knowledge of where to be in goalscoring positions is vital to the team’s chance creation, and although there are critics of the Swede there’s no doubting the man knows how to score goals. For now, the club have to rely on that whilst others struggle.
Manchester United are up against it currently, and they are slipping away from the top four picture. However eight points behind the title chasers in fourth (and more from the league leaders above them), it is not over yet. Twenty five rounds remain, and the team should only get better. To have doubts is natural, but to write them off completely would be foolish.