Manchester United face on Sunday a Tottenham Hotspur team they have beaten only twice in their last eight Premier League contests.
Adrian Clarke looks at how Jose Mourinho’s team can take a big step forward to closing the gap on the fifth-placed team, and ultimately the top four, at Old Trafford.
Lacking a finishing touch
Jose Mourinho recently claimed Manchester United have been the “unluckiest team in the Premier League” this season. I understand his frustration.
Producing better movement, speeding up the tempo of their play and creating more chances than in 2015/16, the quality of United’s performances has increased, even if the points tally does not reflect it.
Sub-standard finishing is the main reason why they are nine points from the top four.
While it is encouraging United have manufactured more goal attempts than both Chelsea and Arsenal after ranking 15th in the PL for shots in 2015/16, United’s conversion of chances is well below their rivals’.
Man Utd compared with current top four
|Shots on target||82||70||98||82||77|
A look at the numbers helps to clarify where it has gone wrong for them at times this season.
Mourinho’s men have scored in both halves only twice in 14 PL matches. This compares with Manchester City (eight), Chelsea (seven), Arsenal (seven) and Liverpool (six).
All have been far better at maintaining a threat for 90 minutes.
Man Utd have also scored more than once in only four 14 Premier League matches.
In contrast, Chelsea (11), Liverpool (10), Arsenal and Manchester City (both nine) all cut loose in attacking terms far more effectively.
When on top, United also struggle to put opponents away and this partially explains why six of their matches have been drawn.
Crucially, a lack of creativity is no longer a concern and once their finishing improves they will undoubtedly challenge the top four.
Surprising chief culprits
The club’s two marquee summer signings have both been hugely influential, but there is one unwelcome statistic for them.
No Premier League player has fired as many wayward shots as Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Pogba, both of whom lead the way for failing to force opposition goalkeepers into a save.
Most shots off target 2016/17
|Player||Shots off target|
Since returning to Old Trafford Pogba has been eager to prove himself.
At times it has felt like the Frenchman is trying too hard to score, attempting too ambitious efforts. As he learns to relax in the environment, his shot selection will improve.
In the case of Ibrahimovic, with eight PL goals, it is difficult to be too critical.
Capable of scoring from a range of situations, his knack of being in the right place means the highest shot-taker in the Premier League has enjoyed 50 efforts from open play alone.