The Theatre of Draws
Wednesday night’s draw with Hull was a frustrating one on so many levels as we once again failed to capitalise on those above us by drawing a very winnable game. If it was understandable at Stoke, then it was unacceptable here. I was at the game on Wednesday night and if all our problems this season could have been summarised in a 90 minute performance then this was it. The progress under Mourinho is evident and I’m encouraged by the fact we are still fighting on four fronts but in terms of the league it seems to be one step forward two steps back at the moment. In this article I'll take a look at what is costing us.
Premier League form table (home)
7. Man City
8. Man United
Despite an undoubted improvement in the attacking intent shown at Old Trafford this year, the stats unfortunately show the harsh reality of our failures. We have fallen short in winning half of our home games and currently rank not only as the lowest of the top six but behind Burnley and Everton too. More alarming is the fact that the last two visits of Liverpool and Hull have perhaps been the most underwhelming performances of the lot. Although no less damaging, draws at home to Burnley, Stoke and Arsenal were at least accompanied by performances where we thoroughly deserved to win. Any team can claim their fair share of ifs and buts yet it’s been such fine margins when it comes to our results at Old Trafford. Failing to convert guilt edge chances (Hull, Burnley, West Ham) or hold onto a lead in the last 5 minutes (Stoke, Arsenal) has cost our title and potentially top four chances dearly.
Shots (shots on target) in last 3 home draws:
Hull City – 16 (6)
Liverpool – 9 (3)
West Ham – 17 (8)
Shots (shots on target) in the first 3 home draws:
Arsenal – 12 (5)
Stoke – 24 (9)
Burnley – 38 (11)
Criticising team selection is often far too easy and well aided by the power of hindsight (see Arsenal Fan TV for examples- and laughs!). I wrote last month that Mourinho seemed to have found a settled and functioning starting 11 with plenty of promising options from the bench. Barring the left wing slot his team selections in the league have been fairly consistent since then, though there has been the odd questionable mishap. The decision to rest both Carrick and introduce Juan Mata at Stoke seemed to backfire, but they were hardly contentious decisions given the formers age and the latter’s form. The came Wigan and we saw Anthony Martial recover from a slow start to register 2 assists and a goal that was only disallowed due to a teammate’s infringement. His omission from the starting XI against Hull thus came as a surprise but in Marcus Rashford the replacement wasn’t too disappointing. What was disappointing was Mourinho’s failure to bring on the Frenchman in a game that was screaming out for his injection of power and directness. Yet what we saw instead was Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata introduced as the struggling Rashford remained on the pitch. Mourinho was of course hampered by the forced substitution of Jones but who’s to say he wouldn’t have favoured Lingard as his final substitute; such seems to be his stubbornness over Martial.
Not taking our chances has been a hallmark of our season and so it proved again last night. We dominated without being remarkable but the chances passed up by Paul Pogba and Juan Mata were an all too familiar sight for a side that ranks 18th in the Premier League chance conversion chart with 8.44 per cent. Eldin Jakupovic had a decent game when called upon but unlike Grant, Heaton and Randolph before him he was hardly forced to play out of his skin. We simply didn’t test him often enough and when we did create openings our poor finishing was at fault rather than anything spectacular from the Swissman. Our over-reliance on Zlatan Ibrahimovic is becoming apparent too. He’s contributed a mightily impressive19 goals and 4 assists this season and when he doesn’t score, the likes of Mata, Pogba, Rashford, Rooney, Mhkitaryan and Martial need to supplement this. Unfortunately they aren’t doing it on a consistent enough basis.
Failing to gain ground
Once again the teams above us have dropped points and once again we’ve responded by not securing a win. It wasn’t just one or even two of our top six rivals but all four of Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea stumbled this week. Despite their recent improvements under Silva, Hull at home represented a golden opportunity and you’d probably have picked this as the perfect game for 3 points. Whilst our unbeaten run has been impressive since beating Tottenham on December 11th the only top six opposition we’ve faced has been Liverpool at home. In that time there have been 6 occasions in which those above us have faced each other.
04/02/2017 Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal
31/01/2017- Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea
21/01/2017- Man City 2-2 Spurs
04/01/2017- Spurs 2-0 Chelsea
31/01/2017- Liverpool 1-0 Man City
18/12/2017- Man City 2-1 Arsenal
After that Tottenham game we were 6 points adrift of the top four and in 6th position. Currently we are 4 points away from the top four and still lie in 6th. To have made just two points worth of progress in that period underlines our failure to take advantage. The recent results against Stoke and Hull have been the main contributors to this and we simply cannot afford to drop more points at Leicester this weekend. Losses for Arsenal and Liverpool mean we have once again been gifted with the chance to catch up, let’s ensure we take it.
All information/stats gathered from: http://www.soccerstats.com/homeaway.asp?league=england, http://www.transfermarkt.co.uk/, http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport