Champions league qualification is looking like a difficult target to achieve for Manchester United after another disappointing draw in the Premier League. Jose Mourinho has been correct in bemoaning poor finishing but eventually it is not unlucky, it is a pattern. Something needs to change fast in the way the team attacks.
James Ducker, The Times newspaper’s Manchester football correspondent, highlighted the issue with the team’s finishing this week. Manchester United have taken 390 shots in the league so far this season, with a shot conversion ratio of 8.46%, while Liverpool have taken 388 shots with a conversion ratio of 13.4 per cent.
That difference in shot conversion is of paramount importance. Opta’s statistics classify 41 of those shots as ‘big chances’ and the conversion rate of these clear-cut chances is comfortably the worst in the league at below 30 per cent.
Jose Mourinho needs to take some responsibility for the malaise in front of goal. Persisting with the current system, which heavily relies on Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring goals for the duration of a match, has caused problems before.
During a run of games through September and October last year, Ibrahimovic went 609 minutes without scoring a Premier League goal; at the end of October he had taken more shots without scoring (42) than any other player in the league. This resulted in the team not scoring enough goals and points being dropped. That recent bit of history is now repeating itself.
Ibrahimovic has scored plenty of goals and has done more than his fair share but persisting with him for 90 minutes looks like folly. Jose Mourinho needs to experiment with a different attacking system, a plan B as pundits often say.
When the team is struggling to break the deadlock, Mourinho needs to be more pro-active than simply making substitutions.The system and formation too often remains the same, which means the opposition is not having to adapt as much as they would be if they were facing completely different problems.
Marcus Rashford’s blistering pace through the middle in the last twenty minutes is a different problem for defenders to contend with. Yet Rashford largely remains a blunted presence on the wing, while a consistently incisive force on the wing, Anthony Martial, is on the substitutes bench too often.
The public fall-out with the player and his agent looks like a poor ploy from the manager when the team needs the player firing on all cylinders, perhaps the arm round the shoulder approach to man-management would have been more appropriate in this instance.
Elsewhere, Juan Mata is comfortably the most efficient creator and finisher from midfield since his arrival from Chelsea but he is seemingly still not quite trusted by Mourinho, while the often wasteful Jesse Lingard often makes the starting line-up without obvious merit.
These little mistakes over the course of the season are slowly but surely coalescing into the prospect of another season without Champions League football, a prospect the club’s management would not have envisaged after the squad investment in the summer. It is imperative that Mourinho finds a way to sharpen the team’s cutting edge in front of goal, immediately at that.