Manchester United are still reeling from their 3-1 away defeat in the league at the hands of Chelsea. To the bewilderment of their fans and the amusement of opposing ones, David Moyes has claimed that he thought his side played well and it’s not the first time he’s made that deduction following a defeat. Despite the ridicule he’s faced because of that, he’s not ‘entirely’ wrong.
Generally speaking, United have played well this season, just not in the areas of the pitch that matter the most. In the majority of the games in which they’ve dropped points, they had more of the ball, created ‘enough’ chances and were the team trying to drive forward.
However, they haven’t taken their opportunities and injuries to Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have played a big part in that. On the other hand, they’ve been extremely nervy at the back, conceding goals almost every time their defense is threatened. But with the back four constantly being reshuffled on account of injuries, disorganization and inconsistency is hard to avoid.
United haven't been clinical enough upfront
It’s gotten to a point where opposing teams don’t have to play well to beat Manchester United. Lesser sides can afford to bide their time as the Red Devils come at them with their blunt pitchforks in attack before succumbing at the first signs of danger.
United flew out of the blocks at Stamford Bridge on Sunday night and were quite comfortably the better team for the opening 15 minutes, with Adnan Januzaj conducting proceedings. However, they didn’t capitalize on their good spell. They needed a goal while they were on top but lacked a cutting edge up front and were simply not clinical enough when chances came their way.
They dominated possession in that period, frequently ventured into the final third and strung a few neat passes together, particularly down the left flank. But their indecision in the box coupled with Chelsea’s unquestionable solidarity, denied them a goal in the first half. Instead, they were to go two down before the break, as Chelsea struck twice against the run of play.
Chelsea barely had to break a sweat to score thrice
While the Blues were the more efficient team, they didn’t exactly steamroll United because in all honesty, they didn’t have to. Jose Mourinho’s troops almost sat back and watched as the Reds imploded. Samuel Eto’o was the beneficiary of United’s latest collapse at the back as he needed just four attempts for his hat-trick.
The statistics of the game were evenly spread between the two sides but the overwhelming scoreline resonated long into the night. Chelsea had put three goals past United while barely lifting a finger, attacking only in bursts on the counter.
The 2-1 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on New Year’s day was a prime example of United’s general good play undone only by their incompetence in either penalty box. On that occasion, the hosts commanded 57% of possession and created a host of chances, launching 13 efforts at goal in response to Tottenham’s 7.
United dominated Spurs but were caught out at the back
The 13 corners United won on the night against the 2 they conceded speaks volumes of the pressure they put on the away side as they camped in the opposing half for long spells in the second period particularly. Ultimately though, they weren’t sharp enough in attack and conceded two soft goals on the counter.
However, while United’s defense was poor last season as well, they were prolific up front. At this stage of the campaign in fact, they had conceded 29 goals while they’ve leaked 27 this term. On the other hand, they had plundered 56 goals already but have managed only 36 so far this term. While they created 11.52 chances per game last season, they’ve still managed to engineer 9.77 chances per game this time around but have scored 20 fewer goals and therein lies the telling difference.
The reason for that drop in goals as well as chances created could be attributed to the absence of their first choice strike partnership of Rooney and Van Persie. The Dutchman in particular was in sensational form during the previous campaign, scoring 26 goals but also creating more chances than any other United player (71). Rooney came closest with 49 chances created to go with his 12 goals and 16 assists.
The duo's absence has starved United of goals & creativity
That kind of firepower and creativity upfront served to compensate for their shortcomings in midfield last season but without that luxury of frequent goals and regular chances, those problems have well and truly come to the fore. The long-term fix would naturally be to strengthen their midfield but getting the striking duo on the pitch again should at least get them back on track.
So, should United have dropped as many points as they have based on their general displays? No, because they were rarely outplayed in most of their draws or defeats and by their standards, they should have been more clinical in attack and miserly in defense.
However, even though they haven’t always had the rub of the green this season, they do deserve to be where they are in the league at the moment simply because you have to take your chances at this level and hold your nerve at the back. That’s football at its most brutal, a game often settled by the finest margins.
(Stats via squawka.com)
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