Here Telegraph Sport assesses one of the key flaws in United’s DNA at present: their inability to get results away from home in big games.
Manchester United’s problems on the road are becoming increasingly pronounced and one of the many issues with which manager Erik ten Hag is wrestling. Since the start of March last year, United have lost 18 of 35 away matches in all competitions –every other away game on average in effect.
Only West Ham of the ever present top flight sides have a worst record over that period and it will encourage Burnley as they look for their first victory since returning to the Premier League when United visit Turf Moor on Saturday night in what has already become a must win for Ten Hag’s side after four defeats in their last five outings.
United’s troubles on their travels have been particularly evident in the big games.
Wednesday’s defeat at the Allianz Arena extended a miserable run that has seen United win just one of 14 away fixtures against the Premier League’s top nine and teams in Europa League knockout ties and the Champions League dating back to the start of last season.
In that time, Ten Hag’s side have lost 11 times and shipped 42 goals, although it is the tendency to concede multiple times in quick succession that is most alarming and points to mental weakness and character issues.
Bayern was the latest example with United conceding a cheap second goal just four minutes after Andre Onana’s howler gifted the German champions an undeserved lead. United imploding at the first hint of a setback has become a prevailing theme.
They conceded twice in five minutes in the 3-1 defeat at Arsenal this month, three times in seven minutes and four times in 22 minutes in the 7-0 thrashing by Liverpool in March and twice in four minutes, three times in 10 minutes and four times in 25 minutes in the losses to Aston Villa, Manchester City and Brentford respectively in the first half of last season.
Poor possession game
United had only eight open-play sequences against Bayern that included 10 or more passes. Their opponents, by contrast, had 20, despite actually being sloppy by their standards in possession.
Furthermore, United managed just two so-called “build up attacks” in the game, which is the number of open play sequences that contain 10 or more passes and end in a shot or at least one touch in the opposition box. Bayern had seven.
United’s poverty in possession is a huge factor in their inability to manage games, particularly the difficult moments when things are going against them. The addition of new signing Sofyan Amrabat, who was missing against Bayern through injury, may help in that regard since the Morocco midfielder is adept at controlling the tempo.
But, given that Ten Hag made overhauling the midfield his priority when he arrived 16 months ago, it is worrying that United are still so poor on the ball and long-standing shortcomings in this area remain unaddressed.
Chasing the game at 3-1 down, one incident late on against Bayern summed up United’s disturbing lack of hunger and determination: Scott McTominay’s feeble attempt to get back after losing possession to Dayot Upamecano after a poor, heavy first touch.
As Jonathan Walters, the former Stoke and Ireland forward, put it: “The referee outpacing McTominay and the FIVE other attacking players in the 79th minute says all you need to know about Man United at the moment. Desire = Zero. Embarrassing”.
Wingers not tracking back
“Anyone remember when wingers used to help their full back?” Paul Scholes posted on social media in the wake of United’s 6-3 capitulation at City 12 months ago.
City’s fifth goal that day underlined the issues to which Scholes, the former United midfielder, was referring when Antony failed to track a run from deep by Sergio Gomez and the City left back was able to overlap Jack Grealish and cross for Erling Haaland to score.
But that sort of detail has become a feature and was apparent in the way Alejandro Garnacho, for example, failed to track Dejan Kulusevski before his pull back for Pape Matar Sarr’s goal in Tottenham’s 2-0 last month and Marcus Rashford’s lousy attempt to stop Leroy Sane from cutting aside in the lead up to Bayern’s first.
The problem of wingers not tracking has been compounded by United’s midfielders ball-watching and failing to spot dangerous opposition runs into the box, or danger generally.
With United’s centre-halves dragged out of position after more trouble out wide against Arsenal this month, Christian Eriksen was totally unaware of Martin Odegaard stealing into the penalty area to convert Gabriel Martinelli’s pass.
There was more of the same for Bayern’s second goal with the ball-watching Casemiro and Eriksen leaving Serge Gnabry completely free to turn home Jamal Musiala’s cut back after risible defending from Diogo Dalot.
Ten Hag blamed a combination of injuries and mental issues for United’s collapses.
United were without nine players through injury against Bayern, including centre-halves Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire and full backs Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Tyrell Malacia, and the frequency with which the central defenders and full-backs are changing is not helping matters and adding to their defensive disarray.
United fielded six different centre-half pairings in their biggest 11 away matches last season and already this term there have been three different combinations against Spurs, Arsenal, when United finished with Maguire and Jonny Evans having started with Victor Lindelof and Lisandro Martinez, and Bayern.