Following Manchester United’s disappointing draw at home to 10-man Bournemouth on Saturday, Jose Mourinho insisted that his side would be challenging Chelsea for the title if it wasn’t for a number of wasteful performances at Old Trafford this season.
With the Blues looking dead certain for Premier League glory, it’s time to forget about the title. More importantly, with just 12 games to play, will United’s sloppy home form cost them a Champions League place?
In what was a dramatic encounter, Josh King's coolly dispatched penalty cancelled out Marcos Rojo's opener, with the match descending into chaos as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tyrone Mings traded blows before Andrew Surman was sent off.
Ibrahimovic – never far away from the spotlight – also saw his second half penalty saved by Artur Boruc. United have now won just six times at home in the league this season, losing to Manchester City and drawing seven others. The full list can be found below.
- 1-1 vs Stoke (02/10/16)
- 0-0 vs Burnley (29/10/16)
- 1-1 vs Arsenal (19/11/16)
- 1-1 vs West Ham (27/11/16)
- 1-1 vs Liverpool (15/01/17)
- 0-0 vs Hull (01/02/17)
- 1-1 vs Bournemouth (04/03/17)
Poor United Results Against Poorer Teams
Not in the mood to talk about Manchester United Football Club who can't even beat relegation threatened teams at home.
— sarah ? (@sarahmufc93) March 4, 2017
Dropping points against Arsenal and Liverpool is not ideal, but understandable given that they are rivals of a similar quality and stature. However, it’s their failure to put teams like Stoke, Burnley and Hull to the sword that will have Mourinho pulling his hair out.
The statistics don’t make for pretty reading either. The above fixtures saw United take 136 shots, 49 of which were on target, but only manage to find the net five times. Also, their reliance on Ibrahmovic for goals should be of huge concern, with Juan Mata, their next highest scorer still nine goals behind the 35-year-old Swede.
Profligacy has been a common theme for United this season, and the manager has never shied away from voicing his concerns on the issue. Speaking after the Bournemouth game, he told the BBC that his side only had themselves to blame. “Who can I blame? Only ourselves. Nobody else. We have too many draws for the attacking play we produce.”
However, there may be an element of bad luck in their play as well having hit the woodwork 16 times this season – the most in the Premier League. So where do the Red Devils go from here and how does the manager go about tackling these issues?
Anthony Martial Must Be Let Loose
It’s no secret that Mourinho has been left wanting more from Anthony Martial. “Players have to win their positions. They are friends, they are colleagues, they work together every day but at the end they compete between themselves to have more chances to play.” The message was clear. After an excellent first season in England, the 20-year-old has struggled this time round and after his manager backed him publicly, Mourinho chose to lay down the law. If Martial wants to play, he has to earn it.
Yet, there’s no escaping the fact that United are a far more dangerous outfit with him in the side than without. Blessed with a silky touch, intelligent movement and a frightening ability to shift through the gears, the Frenchman is arguably their second biggest goal threat.
Rarely fazed in front of goal, he shows a coolness found in strikers five or ten years his senior. Martial may not offer the industry of Jesse Lingard or the vision of Mata, but when he runs at defenders they do not want to touch him. Give him an extended run in the side where can find his best form, and goals will follow.
Find Paul Pogba's Best Position
There is also the issue of finding Paul Pogba’s best position. When you spend £89m on a player, you would ideally have a plan in mind for him beforehand. But during his seven months at the club, the 23-year-old has played as the deepest lying midfielder, as part of a two and briefly as a number ten. Following his initial departure from Old Trafford as a 19-year-old, Pogba became one of the best in the world when deployed on the left of a midfield three in a 4-3-3, or 3-5-3 formation, given license to attack and defend in equal measure.
United have the personnel to replicate that midfield dynamic. Michael Carrick can sit just in front of the back four and control the tempo with his laser-perfect range of passing, just like Andrea Pirlo. Ander Herrera could play slightly further forward and act as the aggressive ball winner, constantly recycling play for territorial advantage in a similar fashion to Arturo Vidal. This then allows Pogba to contribute in possession, but make more of an impact further forward when using his power to burst past players or shoot from range. It’s just a matter of whether Mourinho can stray from his ideals.
— Matt Wilson (@mattianwilson) February 27, 2017
Change can be a good thing for United
These suggestions are not guaranteed to improve United’s fortunes in front of goal, but with time running out and the same problems rearing their head, change may be what pushes them over the line for a Champions League place. Either that, or they could just go and win the Europa League.