Five areas costing Manchester United dear in their Premier League challenge

Telegraph Sport
The Telegraph
Things are not quite going Manchester United's way this season
Things are not quite going Manchester United's way this season

On the one hand, Manchester United are unbeaten in the Premier League for 20 matches. On the other, they are stagnating in fifth place and teetering on the brink of Champions League qualification with more draws than any other team in the division.

As usual, Jose Mourinho has come up with all manner of different excuses to explain their troubles - that is, when he accepts that the club has been experiencing troubles.

Here, we run through five areas that are costing the club dear in their battle against the other big hitters in the top six - Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal.

Wasted chances

The table below says it all. If the Premier League was decided on the percentage of shots converted in goals, United would be battling relegation.

Shot conversion table

It is no surprise to see league leaders Chelsea top the shot conversion table, with more than 14 per cent of their efforts ending up in the back of the net. Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs are not far behind, while Mourinho's side are floundering among the likes of Hull, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

Indeed, the fact that Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba had efforts come off the woodwork in the 1-1 draw against Everton on Tuesday was reflective of United's season as a whole.

The club have hit the crossbar or post 18 times this season, costing them a potential 11 points in the process. Pogba leads the way with five attempts off the woodwork.

Turn those efforts into goals and United could be challenging for the title.

One-man team

It is an accepted requisite for any team attempting to finish in the top four that a near-20-goal per season striker is a must. Chelsea have Diego Costa, Spurs have Harry Kane, Arsenal have Alexis Sanchez, Manchester City have Sergio Aguero and United are no different, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic proving a revelation this season.

The Swede has scored 16 Premier League goals to place himself among the division's leading scorers. But who else is scoring for United? Here are the leading two goalscorers at the top six clubs this season:

<span>There is only so much that Zlatan Ibrahimovic can do</span> <span>Credit: afp </span>
There is only so much that Zlatan Ibrahimovic can do Credit: afp

Chelsea:Costa 17, Hazard 11 = 28 (Club total: 60)
Spurs: Kane 19, Alli 14 = 33 (57)
Liverpool: Mane 13, Firmino 9 = 21 (64) 
Man City: Aguero 14, Sterling 6 = 20 (56)
Man Utd: Ibrahimovic 16, Mata 6 = 22 (43)
Arsenal: Sanchez 18, Walcott 9 = 27 (58)

The over-reliance on Ibrahimovic is startling, with the Swede scoring a huge 37 per cent of United's league goals this season. Where the likes of Eden Hazard, Dele Alli, Roberto Firmino and Theo Walcott have all scored considerable numbers of goals this season, United have no comparable player to fill the berth of No 2 goalscorer.

Juan Mata's six league goals is paltry compared to almost all other top-six sides (only Manchester City find themselves in a similar position of over-reliance on one man), and some clubs have three, four or even five players with more goals than the Spaniard - Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and James Milner all have seven to their name at Liverpool.

Home form

Gone are the days of fortress Old Trafford. This season, visiting teams heading home from Sir Matt Busby Way invariably have a point to their name.

Premier League home table

United may only have lost one match at home all season, but their tally of nine draws is considerably higher than any other team in the league.

Spurs have dropped four points at White Hart Lane all campaign, while Chelsea have seen just six points go amiss at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho's men have let a huge 21 points slip from their grasp at Old Trafford. Of the top six, only Manchester City have a similarly poor home record this season, but Pep Guardiola's side have played two fewer games at the Etihad Stadium.

Inspiring new signings

It goes without saying that not every incoming transfer is going to hit it off straight away. Some are coming from other leagues, acclimatising to new systems, new formations and new styles of football.

But, considering the £157 million outlay last summer - the second highest of the Premier League's top six clubs - United are not getting bang for their buck.

Paul Pogba heads the incoming list with his world record transfer fee of £89m from Juventus. The Frenchman has shown glimpses of genius (and those woodwork statistics from earlier show how close he has come to making a huge difference), but has not kicked on in the manner that his monster fee suggested.

2017/18 leaked kits for Europes top clubs

More than £35m was spent on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who endured a bizarre start to his United career when he was omitted for much of the first half of the season. The Armenian has been seen more regularly in recent months, but Mourinho dropped him for the recent draw against Everton after conceding he was "not happy" with his performances.

Consider the other top six clubs' priciest transfer fees over the 2016/17 season:

Chelsea: Michy Batshuayi (£33m), N'Golo Kante (£30m) = £63m
Spurs: Moussa Sissoko (£30m), Vincent Janssen (£19m) = £49m
Liverpool: Sadio Mane (£35m), Georginio Wijnaldum (£23m) = £58m
Man City: John Stones (£47m), Leroy Sane (£42m) = £89m
Man Utd: Paul Pogba (£89m), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£35m) = £124m
Arsenal: Granit Xhaka (£38m), Shkodran Mustafi (£35m) = £75m

It is a mixed bag. For every Moussa Sissoko there has been an N'Golo Kante, and no Spurs and Arsenal fan would say they are content with their team's big-money signings. But no club spent bigger on fewer players than United and the outlay has not paid off yet.

The man in charge

Is Mourinho a spent force?

It is a question that has been raised with increased frequency this season as the United manager has lurched from strange outburst to strange outburst. As well as serving his own touchline ban earlier in the season for two misconduct charges and resuming his usual verbal battles with fellow managers, Mourinho has appeared increasingly irate in recent months, directing his anger at all and sundry.

Only last week he reacted with undue incredulity and indignation when a BBC reporter asked if United and West Brom had cancelled each other out during the goalless draw at Old Trafford.

This week has seen Mourinho decide that the best way of getting the best out of Luke Shaw - one of the brightest defensive talents in England - is to repeatedly humiliate him.

Jose Mourinhos best quotes

Having already insisted Shaw is a "long way behind" his fellow left-back rivals at United, Mourinho then refused to give the defender any credit for his performance against Everton by claiming that "it was his body with my brain".

He said: "He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him.

"The communication was possible because we were very close. I was thinking for him, when to close inside, when to open, when to press the opponent, I was making every decision for him.

"He must accelerate the process because he is 21 years old and that is old enough to have a better understanding of the game."

Perhaps it is genius man-management and Mourinho knows exactly what he is doing. Or perhaps it is indicative of a manager feeling the pressure and selecting his punchbag as he starts to lose the plot.

What to read next