Unbeaten records do not come less spectacular than Manchester United’s. The raw numbers look great, they deserve a minor ripple of applause perhaps, but the truth is it has relied on draws. Many of those draws have been at home, at a stadium that was the most feared away trip in English football until the departure of Alex Ferguson.
No Premier League team has drawn more matches than Manchester United. They’ve had eleven of them. Eleven matches where they could not find a winning goal and the majority of those have been at Old Trafford. Frustrated by poor finishing, stunning goalkeeping and questionable tactics, their charge for the top four looks in doubt with a number of encounters against their fellow top seven rivals still to come.
The last of those draws was this weekend as Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion did what Pulis sides do best. The Baggies sat deep and limited United to only a handful of chances, most of which were not even bordering on the clichéd realm of ‘half chance’. Creatively they were lacking and they once again could not find a breakthrough. Indifferent finishing will eventually regress, but this has become a prolonged issue for Manchester United that has haunted an altogether disappointing season.
Next up is the visit of Everton. Ronald Koeman’s Toffees have been a mixed bag against the top six this season and will still be licking their raw, rival-inflicted wounds from Saturday lunchtime. Although their defence was disorganised and individually error prone at the weekend, Koeman will know as well as anyone what needs to be done at Old Trafford. With an industrious, balanced midfield the Dutchman will protect his defence and sit deep, leaving Romelu Lukaku as the attacking outlet. The blueprint to prevent Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has become all too clear.
Everton’s own faint top four hopes were slashed to irrelevance by Liverpool, but they will be fiercely determined to return to the sort of form that has made them such a force 2017. Lukaku is unlikely to be as quiet as he was at Anfield, with Manchester United’s defenders all too likely to make a rash judgement.
After an improvement at the start of this calendar year, Manchester United have seen the greater problems from earlier in the campaign re-emerge. Injuries take some flak for it, as does Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s suspension, but it is Mourinho who is responsible for how ponderous his side often are in possession. An emphatically uninspiring draw with the Baggies with further confirmation of where Manchester United are currently at.
As good as they could be, this has been a season of underperformance and disappointment at Old Trafford. It is not simply down to luck that they have drawn so many league games, there are fundamental issues in the team that must be solved if next season is to be any better. Defeat to Koeman’s side on Tuesday would see United level on points with the Toffees and their top four challenge as good as over, with both sides out of the running.
With his side short of invention and tempo in the final third, Everton are an unpleasant, poorly timed opponent for Mourinho.