United drew a game for the eighth time in the Premier League after a difficult and frustrating encounter at the Bet365 stadium on a nippy Saturday afternoon.
It was in many ways, the 2016/17 season in a nutshell under Mourinho that Manchester United managed to recover after an early wobble, create more than enough opportunities to win the game, yet somehow only manage to score once, thanks to a world class strike from substitute Wayne Rooney. A record 250th goal in all competitions for the Red Devils surpassing the great Sir Bobby Charlton, coming from a free kick worthy of winning any football match, but it was one of the most important goals that the England and Manchester United forward had scored in the last few years.
United did not lose the game and that was vitally important for their momentum, after going down quite early by a deflected Erik Pieters goal. United managed to recover from a losing position again and have not lost for a while now – they are unbeaten in 17 games (13 in the Premier League) in all competitions and their last defeat in the Premier League came at the back end of October. But the pattern of draws, following a host of squandered chances is worryingly regular.
At the Bet365 stadium, United attempted 25 shots as opposed to Stoke City’s 7 (6 in the second half) with 8 of them on target. Their intent was positive, and barring a few individual errors, the visitors were in full control of proceedings like they have been in the majority of games they have drawn in the league.
The visitors were a goal down, despite being the better side with the best chance falling to them. This time it is the ever reliable Juan Mata who ironically has the highest shot accuracy of all United players (with 10 shots or more), missing the golden chance to caress the ball into the open net to restore parity. It was always going to be an uphill battle from there.
In the second half, once again, it was the manager that changed the outcome for United. Mourinho’s changes were able to positively impact the game, following the recent trend, as the three substitutes that came on – Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Wayne Rooney – injected some much needed urgency and quality to aid a lacklustre Zlatan Ibrahimovic who was guilty himself of failing to pull the trigger more than one time when he was in great positions to do so.
Ultimately, the game provided a timely reminder of Manchester United’s generic issue since Mourinho took over as manager at Old Trafford, despite the fact that the opposition goalkeepers do frequently tend to raise their game against Manchester United this season and in the case of Stoke City’s Hugh Grant, it has happened more than once. The Portuguese was quick to point that out in his post match press-conference. He said,
“It was a big game with two teams in the beginning trying to win. But after 25 minutes one team tried to win and the other tried to defend, which they did amazingly well. They showed great work-rate and did everything to try and stop us. We did everything well except in front of our target. We missed unbelievable chances. We hit the post, the keeper saves, we missed chances. The opposition goalkeepers are always amazing against us.”
Manchester United are struggling to find the net when a 35-year old summer signing has an off day and that cannot be happening at a club with ambitions to break into the top four and win silverware this campaign.
Although they have addressed the issue of creating chances to score under Mourinho, which is commendable in itself – they are ranked third in shots on target per game with an average of 6 (only behind Liverpool and Spurs), they are a lowly 20th when it comes to ‘big chance conversion’.
United’s top scorer in the league Zlatan Ibrahimovic has 14 league goals to his name having scored three goals more than the next three names on the list (Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford) combined. The Swede has guided many of his previous sides to league titles and domestic cups in his glittering career with his prolific nature but this may be too much of a burden even for him to shoulder as Man United need to share their goals, if they are to climb up the league table they have not ascended in a long time.