Manchester United showed glimpses of attacking intelligence against Arsenal at the Emirates on Saturday, but lack of end-product means they had to make peace with a second goalless draw in their past four Premier League games.
While United have time and again found a way of resurrection, it is high time for the players as well as the manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to start winning games against the top six teams of the league. The Red Devils have played six Premier League games against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal, and not even once that they have come out on top.
The team has, in fact, gathered just four points out of a possible 18, meaning that they average a mere 0.5 points per game against their rival opponents. That’s certainly a far cry from what United used to be during Solskjaer’s initial years in charge. Between December 2018 and the end of 2019, United registered seven victories in 13 games against the top six clubs, averaging an impressive 1.92 points per game. This season though, they are yet to win any.
As we speak, only Chelsea have carried an inferior record against the top six this season. This is how the tally looks:
- Liverpool: W4, D2, L0 – 14 points
- Tottenham: W3, D1, L2 – 10 points
- Man City: W2, D2, L1 – 8 points
- Arsenal: W2, D1, L3 – 7 points
- Man Utd: W0, D4, L2 – 4 points
- Chelsea: W0, D2, L3 – 2 points
A goalless draw against Arsenal on Saturday not only highlighted their inability to breach a top defence, but it also put a massive dent on their title aspirations. All United needed was a stimulating display against the Gunners, but lack of goals means it has now been 538 minutes since they last scored a goal against a top rival. Their last strike was, in fact, a penalty goal by Bruno Fernandes in a 6-1 thrashing at hands of Tottenham at Old Trafford.
Why can’t United beat the Big Six?
Well, it all comes down to the rued opportunities. Against Liverpool, it was Paul Pogba. Against Arsenal, it was either Marcus Rashford or Edinson Cavani.
"Every game in the Premier League is tight, but the two you are talking about, we felt we were close to winning them," Solskjaer said after the Arsenal game.
"We had two massive chances against Liverpool, two good saves by the keeper. Today, two massive chances again but just wide. To get those four extra points, we need a little bit more quality and be more clinical. We went for it today; we felt the game was there to be won."
‘The game was there to be won’. What United lack in these fixtures is that little bit of edge, the spark that is needed. The chances you get needs to be converted because let’s face it, there won’t be many. As we speak of strikers, a certain Marcus Rashford has starting to reflect understandable tiredness. The young attacker has not been amongst goals in the league since his winner against Wolves in December.
Predictable moves? Maybe, but that’s no excuse. Winning just four points out of 18 is certainly not enough for United to put in a title challenge. What has been more worrying is the fact that they have failed to breach an understrength opponent; both against Liverpool and Arsenal.
Or is it that they are over-reliant on Bruno Fernandes’ brilliance? Let’s be fair, United look like a top team when their Portuguese midfielder is firing. But when he’s been taken care of by the opponent, they look like a lost child in a crowd; clueless. It’s for the first time in his Manchester United career that he has failed to either score or assist a goal in his last five league outings, and United have won just twice during that period (1-0 against Burnley and 2-1 against Fulham). One can rightly see the pattern here. His goal from the penalty spot against Tottenham is his only contribution against the top teams this season in the Premier League.
There’s absolutely no margin from here on. United are already three points behind table-toppers Manchester City, who have a game in hand, and more hiccups at this stage will definitely crush what they have been working on.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Ian Kington