Manchester United let another two valuable points slip at home as they were held to a 1-1 draw by a spirited West Ham United in the Premier League on Sunday.
The gap between United and fourth spot has now opened up to eight points, meaning United’s run of four-straight home draws in the league could prove hugely costly in the race for Champions League football next season, with early season hopes of a Premier League title all but extinguished.
Once again, Manchester United played the better football for the majority of the game, but once again it was another slow start and a failure to convert good chances that cost Jose Mourinho and his team the three points.
Here are our five lessons from the game.
MOURINHO IN MORE HOT WATER
By and large, it is hard to say Mourinho is not doing a good job at United this season.
The results have not gone his way, but United are a far more entertaining team to watch this season than last, they dominate games and create a gluttony of chances. Why United cannot convert more of them, remains a mystery for a more detailed analysis to show, but no one could argue that Mourinho’s style of football has not been entertaining or effective at creating match-winning chances.
Re-establishing Manchester United as the best team in England and back among the contenders in Europe is perhaps the biggest and toughest job in football at the moment, but one can’t help but think that Mourinho could make it somewhat easier on himself if he would stop providing a constant sideshow to what is happening on the field.
His sending off from the bench might be seen as harsh, but at the end of the day there was no need for him to kick a water bottle in protest of any refereeing decision, much less a good one. The fact that the source of his outrage was a clear dive from Paul Pogba that the Frenchman was deservedly booked for made the Portuguese manager look all the more foolish, and even if it is not to blame for United’s 1-1 draw on the night, it was an unnecessary distraction for everyone and complicated technical discussions between the coaching staff for the rest of the game.
Mourinho has to be setting a better, more disciplined example to his players than what he is right now.
Keep the passion, but lose the petulance because it is not doing anyone any favours.
BAD LUCK OR MORE?
At some point, United’s failure to score more of their good chances has to come down to more than just bad luck.
Marcus Rashford’s one-on-one chance was the pick of the lot, but he was not alone in spurning a gluttony of good opportunities that really should have won United the game on Sunday.
Exactly why United are struggling to score despite having so many clear-cut shots is hard to pin-point.
For starters, opposition goalkeepers seem to be putting in the performances of their lives whenever they step out at Old Trafford. Tom Heaton kicked off the trend with Burnley, before Petr Cech saved Arsenal’s bacon a number of times and now West Ham fill-in Darren Randolph is the latest to frustrate United.
But this is the Premier League, so coming up against good goalkeepers should not be a surprise and that thinking does a disservice to our own number one David De Gea who has been a constant source of inspiration for United over the last three season.
Opposition defenders have also put in huge shifts at Old Trafford. Angelo Ogbonna was the latest to do so, with his heroic block on a Zlatan Ibrahimovic strike the highlight of his game. Whether or not that constitutes bad luck is up for debate, after all this is a player who represented Juventus over 40 times.
The fact is that despite all these factors, United have created good chances and just failed to put them away. Maybe the striker has taken one touch too many, maybe they have not read the ball into the box properly, maybe they have just mishit the ball at the crucial moment or maybe the pressure applied by the defence has put them off their shot.
Whichever combination of reasons it is, United have to address it internally and make sure they start converting at a reasonable rate because this abysmal chance conversion rate can only be deemed as bad luck or out of United’s control for so long.
FELLAINI NO PLAN B
Given how much Louis van Gaal used to talk about his philosophy, his use of Marouane Fellaini as a thrash-and-bash style always confounded some United supporters.
The Belgium international is the antithesis of the sort of footballer Van Gaal aspired to, but yet he continued to rely on him when United needed goals most. It occasionally paid off too, but there was more than enough evidence to suggest that throwing Fellaini in the mix and hoping direct tactics would pay off usually hindered United more often than not.
Fast forward two seasons and United have a new manager, but a familiar plan B. To be fair to Fellaini, this game should have been won long before he was called on to replace Jesse Lingard, but his entrance coincided with United going from bossing the game and looking likely to score a winner to chasing the game and battling a resurgent West Ham.
He almost cost United the one point they managed to claim as well when his hilarious attempts at tackling led to a foul on Mark Noble that had he managed to take one more step forward could have been a penalty.
Fellaini has shown this season that he can play a role at United. Against lower-level teams he can provide a welcome physical presence and provide some relief to the club’s more regular midfielders, but he still is not a match winner and should not be called upon when United desperately need a goal.
POGBA BOSSES AGAIN
Pogba might have embarrassed himself with his silly dive that saw him booked and hence suspended from the mid-week English Football League Cup quarter-final, but he spent the rest of the night embarrassing West Ham.
The Frenchman was a class above once again and his brilliant assist for Ibrahimovic’s equaliser was a long overdue one as finally one of United’s forward managed to convert one of the chances he dished up.
To think how good this guy is at the age of 23 makes you think just how good he can be in the coming years, because he is a dead-set freak. His touch and control is as silky as it gets and his passing range makes him a constant threat no matter where he is on the park.
JONES AND ROJO CONTINUE TO SHINE
You might not be filled with confidence when Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo put their foot on the ball, but you certainly get the feeling that an attacker is going to have to produce something special to beat either of United’s stand-in defenders.
The duo have been very good since coming in to replace the injured duo of Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly and have proven themselves worth of a spot in the United squad, even if not the first-team when everyone is fit.
Mourinho commented prior to the game that he was a fan of Jones “old school” mentality of defence first, and that has really come to the fore in the last few games. It’s not always pretty to watch, but it’s refreshing to see to centre-backs throw themselves into challenges and come out with the ball more often than not.