No matter occurs in opposition to Newcastle on Boxing Day, Manchester United’s 2-Zero defeat to backside membership Watford signifies that they’re now assured to have their lowest-ever factors tally on the midway stage of a Premier League season.
On the face of it, this recreation was determined by two errors from sources that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer most likely considered strengths.
David de Gea is an excellent shot-stopper however, inexplicably, he did not preserve out Ismaila Sarr’s tame effort.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is an amazing tackler however he made a poor determination to dive in on Sarr contained in the field. The next penalty allowed Watford to double their lead.
“We gifted them two targets within the second half,” mentioned Solskjaer.
However to the Manchester United supervisor’s credit score, he refused to cover behind the errors. United have been terrible lengthy earlier than that. This defeat was additionally about all too acquainted weaknesses.
“The primary half, it may simply have been my testimonial,” complained Solskjaer. “It was very subdued, gradual, no tempo or urgency. There was no intent or urgency to make us need to win the sport. There aren’t any excuses in any respect. There’s nothing I can put my finger on.”
That final remark may fear Manchester United supporters as a result of the issues that their staff are having in opposition to weaker opposition ought to be apparent. Remarkably, three of United’s final six Premier League defeats have been in opposition to groups beginning the day within the relegation zone.
It was not troublesome to see this coming.
“The video games which have triggered United issues are these form of video games,” Gary Neville had advised Sky Sports activities beforehand.
United have now taken 14 factors from 13 video games in opposition to groups outdoors the so-called large six. It’s why these latest wins over Manchester Metropolis and Tottenham, whereas a welcome fillip, all the time needed to include a caveat.
They have been by no means the difficulty for this facet.
Manchester United have gained 5 of the six Premier League video games wherein they’ve had lower than half of the ball this season, drawing the opposite.
In distinction, they’ve gained simply one of many dozen video games wherein they’ve had extra possession.
It’s a damning statistic.
There is no such thing as a future on this soccer. Burnley and Newcastle may be capable of tick alongside by choosing up their factors in video games the place they permit the opponent to dominate possession however the large groups need to discover a method to win with the ball, in addition to with out it.
For instance, Liverpool have gained 93 per cent of the matches wherein they’ve had nearly all of the possession – solely United with their counter-attacking soccer denying them.
Leicester have a win share of 77 per cent in these video games. Manchester Metropolis and Chelsea, groups who’ve had issue controlling the counter-attack this season, have nonetheless gained 65 per cent and 56 per cent of those video games respectively.
United’s file stands at simply eight per cent.
Prolong the sequence again into final season and it is one win in 17 video games wherein they’ve had extra of the ball. Solely Norwich have been unable to keep away from defeat in opposition to Solskjaer’s facet. Deny United area in behind, and they aren’t adequate to interrupt groups down.
“We created a great deal of possibilities on the finish however that was solely after they have been 2-Zero up,” acknowledged Solskjaer. Certainly, it was telling that the most effective and solely likelihood when the sport was goalless got here because of Watford’s defence pushing as much as the midway line – permitting Jesse Lingard to run by way of. He made a large number of the tried lob.
When the statistics have been put to Solskjaer at Vicarage Street, after a recreation wherein his facet had 64 per cent of the ball, he mentioned: “I do not know the stats. Right this moment was not in regards to the quantity of possession. Right this moment was about high quality after we do issues.”
He’s half proper. High quality is a matter. It’s simply that it turns into most obvious when there are our bodies in between United and the opposition aim.
“They have not received sufficient creativity within the remaining third,” mentioned Neville.
What’s the answer to that? On this proof, Paul Pogba’s return will assist.
The midfielder made his return from harm throughout the second half and United seemed a really totally different staff because of this. That they had extra photographs within the 29 minutes that he performed than the 64 minutes previous to that. That they had extra touches within the field in that point too.
“The final half an hour, when Paul got here on, that was most likely the one plus at the moment,” mentioned Solskjaer. “He gave us that little little bit of edge, high quality, urgency. He performed some nice passes excessive. He had some good mixtures. He had an opportunity himself.”
Pogba’s passing was massively spectacular. There was one attractive ball that put Marcus Rashford by way of simply minutes after he got here on. Then there was one other lengthy move that Mason Greenwood might need scored from quickly after.
Pogba provides a brand new dimension. He has performed extra through-balls than every other United participant this season, regardless of being on the pitch for less than 30 per cent of the Premier League soccer that the staff has performed.
He has delivered extra assists than Scott McTominay and Fred mixed, creating extra possibilities from open play than McTominay regardless of the younger Scot having had 933 extra minutes wherein to conjure one thing.
In fact, that is not McTominay’s principal position. He has been wonderful this season. He and Fred have given United one thing of a platform – their exhausting working serving to within the large video games. However they can’t pick the passing angles like Pogba.
Actually, with Juan Mata’s finest days seemingly lengthy behind him, there may be no person else at United able to offering the service that the forwards require.
There’s an ongoing suggestion that Pogba desires out. Furthermore, the argument usually made is that Manchester United could be sensible to maneuver him on. That they want gamers who need to be part of the membership for the long run in the event that they hope to progress with this challenge.
Maybe that is true. However with out him, or somebody like him, the proof is rising that Solskjaer’s soccer is doomed to fail.