Football is a sport that continues to throw surprises at us and it’s this glorious uncertainty that is associated with the game that everyone invests their time and money for.
Mourinho’s Manchester United are at the epicenter of this business in England, being completely unpredictable and at times unrecognizable from week to another. Not many would deny or even be shocked at the fact that their recent goalless draw against newly promoted Burnley football club also saw their best performance in terms of penetration, attacking football, domination and chance creation – everything one would want to see Manchester United do at home to a lesser opponent. But funnily enough, they managed to remarkably fail at the one thing they couldn’t afford to.
Their recent record in the Premier League reeks of a mid-table side, which they are at the moment, sitting eighth in the league below Watford, one of the teams they lost to early in the season away from home that kind of started a rot, which bar the two results against Leicester and Fenerbahce, has stayed with the team. Gary Neville, post match, mentioned United’s lack of luck at the moment when he was asked to give a verdict on the game. But although he could be right when you reflect on it in isolation, it’s unfair to apportion a major chunk of the blame to United simply being unlucky on the day. Because after all, this is not the first time they have dominated a game, had clear cut chances to win it fair and square and not won it.
Despite creating a bucket-load of chances and attempting 29 shots (8 on target) it required a lapse of concentration from Hull’s back four and Rashford’s instinct to break the deadlock in stoppage time. Against an out-of-form and patchy Stoke City, the Red Devils had enough opportunities and about 24 attempts (9 on target) to wrap the game, certainly inside the first-half, yet they finished 1-1. Against a very good Feyenoord, away from home in their first group stage encounter, United dominated the match from start to finish and ended up losing 1-0 to a goal against the run of play. So it leaves us with the performance against Burnley, a very attack-minded and positive United did everything you could ask for but putting the ball in the back of the net despite having 37 attempts (their highest since Opta started gathering statistics) including 11 shots on goal. The game ended 0-0. It cannot all be down to luck (or the lack thereof) and refereeing errors.
There could be a number of reasons for United’s incapability to translate their dominance in-game to the scoreboard and each seems more likely than the one before it. But although Mourinho’s shaky and slightly un-Mourinhoish management so far (in more aspects than one) casts a shadow over everything that’s currently not right at Old Trafford, the immediate problems, at least, are on the pitch and down to the team collectively failing to be more clinical in front of goal. The number of major scoring chances missed by United’s best and most experienced forward could have reached double figures by the end of that Burnley fixture and the Swede’s impressive start in his first four games seems like four years ago.
It’s the first time that Ibrahimovic has gone without scoring for six league games in a decade. So in many ways this is new territory for him as much as it is for the Portuguese who’s almost always had powerful and goal-hungry forwards that were capable of scoring more than 20 goals in a domestic season, which Zlatan is, without question. And Manchester United as a football club, after three years since winning the title (could be four, given their present form) find themselves in a new and uncharted territory now, literally and figuratively, as the last time they went four seasons without a title was before the inception of the Premier League.
So before Mourinho addresses some of the deeper issues at a club he wants to stay at for a long period, he needs to search for a solution within himself to resolve what looks like a problem that can definitely be solved. Maybe he could ‘dare not to Zlatan’ the next time United take the field and let the 35-year old forward return to the starting eleven, purely on merit and not just because he is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.