Groundhog day for Jose Mourinho’s men as they failed to capitalise on their 1-0 lead at half time, and succumbed to a world class free kick from Gylfi Sigurðsson to end the game 1-1 and extend their unbeaten run to 25 games. Scant consolation for Manchester United as their Champions League ambitions take another hit in the groin.
Jose Mourinho’s men have drawn 14 out of their 34 Premier League games this season. Only Middlesbrough come close to matching that with 13 draws of their own while they continue to fight a losing relegation battle. It’s hard to pinpoint why Manchester United are failing to kill games off because it’s not down to a defensive mind-set. Since Mourinho’s appointment, the team has played a smarter style of football with no player being let off their defensive duties. If you compare the number of chances created by Chelsea and Manchester United you’d be surprised at the numbers shown. Both clubs boast 36% with their shooting accuracy, but in terms of shots on target Manchester United lead the way with 201 to Chelsea’s 175. In terms of clear cut chances Chelsea have only managed 40, whereas Manchester United have created 58 and yet, Chelsea have scored 21 more goals this season.
If you look at the statistics this season it’s easy to see that Manchester United have not been clinical enough, but going out and buying a prolific goal scorer doesn’t necessarily fix that problem. This season Mourinho has been overly reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has now suffered a double ligament rupture in his knee. Take out the vital goals that Ibrahimovic has scored and Manchester United would be lower down the table and probably finish the season less successful. With links to Antoine Griezmann taking up more media attention, Mourinho must not be naïve. The problems at Manchester United run deeper than a playing squad that fails to kill games off.
Manchester United’s academy has become outdated and thus rendering their facilities obsolete. Louis van Gaal to his credit realised this and put plans in motion that would help update the academy system, just like he did at Ajax before one of their most successful spells in European football under his management. It’s been the foundation for the production line of talent that Ajax as a football club continues to produce. Upon Mourinho’s appointment, he also recognised that the academy was not producing the kind of results that a club like Manchester United was famous for.
In addition to the academy changes, it’s important to not neglect the medical and sports science set-up at the club. During the last three or four seasons the injury list at Manchester United has gradually been getting longer and longer. Mourinho must order a thorough review of the medical practices and sport science methods being used at the club to determine the root cause of the increase in injuries on a season by season basis. Currently, Manchester United have eight players out injured and two of those are long term injuries. In comparison to other teams in the league, Sunderland are the only team to have more injuries with nine. However, can you really contribute poor results to injuries? Manchester United are sitting in 5th place while Sunderland are rooted to the bottom of the table. Last season Manchester City had the joint most injuries in the league alongside Manchester United with 20 and yet Manchester City finished in 3rd place.
While injuries do impact a team’s season it doesn’t tell the entire story. Fixture list congestion can impact a team’s performance but so can the strength and depth of a club. Manchester United just don’t have the strength and depth that it had during the treble winning season of 1998/1999. So fixture congestion can’t be used as a valid excuse either. This is what you should expect when you are Manchester United manager.
So what next for Mourinho?
A thorough review of the medical and sport science departments, as well as coaching methods, needs to be conducted. Continued evaluation and review of the academy structures in place should be maintained in order to ensure that the club is progressing in the right direction and ensure that ground is gained on Manchester City and Chelsea’s youth set-ups. A very productive transfer window in the summer must supplement the first team squad with more quality but also see the reserve team and youth teams reinforced with more talent too. If all of these can be achieved then Manchester United are bound to start challenging on all fronts more effectively and successfully during Mourinho’s reign as manager.