If anything, it was déjà vu for Manchester United at Old Trafford. A score draw when it seemed they could finally permanently climb the league table where they’ve stayed sixth for the last 138 days and as a result, will continue to do at least until they play their next Premier League game in two weeks’ time.
It was arguably the weirdest game Manchester United have played under Mourinho so far. Never short of controversies, the game saw a sending off, player stamping on the head of another player and a vicious elbow in retaliation, in addition to a penalty miss and some gilt-edged chances for the home side that went begging. The latter however, used to be the norm until recent weeks, but on Saturday, United seemed to have traveled back in time.
The starting eleven, in itself, was not what the supporters were used to seeing in this 17 game unbeaten run. Skipper Wayne Rooney was handed a start in the number ten role after a long time and left-back Luke Shaw was given a rare outing after weeks of speculation about the 21-year old’s future beyond the summer.
The Red Devils were rampant in the first twenty minutes, and showed no signs of a post-EFL cup final hangover – creating a raft of chances but once again failed to translate that dominance on to the scoreboard.
The first half saw United pummel Bournemouth – with 10 attempts on goal (5 from inside the box), 5 on target, and 5 ‘big chances created’ but only one goal to show for all their efforts. Wayne Rooney set the tone when he missed a header from six yards out very early in the game then Ibrahimovic followed suit, missing a couple of glorious chances to open the scoring until an unlikely source in Marcos Rojo did, after a failed Valencia attempt fell kindly in the path of the defender to poke it into the net.
But United, often punished this season by individual mistakes, were the victim of a Phil Jones catastrophe inside the box, when the defender who returned to the starting lineup after recovering from a calf injury, gave away a penalty at a crucial time in the first half – a rather cheap one at that, which ex-United youngster Joshua King duly converted. Bournemouth equalised at a time when United should have been light years ahead in terms of actual scoreline but they were pegged back by their own profligacy, like they used to be in the early weeks of November and December.
Besides the leveller from Bournemouth, the game was marred by a series of controversial incidents involving defender Mings and Ibrahimovic, with Surman shown the red card in the end for a push on the 35-year old forward. United, with the numerical advantage they had, were expected to put the game to bed in the second-half but were largely reduced to a shadow of themselves after the break.
Bournemouth sat deep, abandoning their expansive football in exchange for resilience and discipline at the back, which paid dividends as they came away with a point after four successive losses in the competition.
The xG map above shows the stark contrast from the first half where the quality of chances created by the home side was far superior. A missed penalty from Ibrahimovic aside, who had one of his worst games for United in his short career, the Red Devils failed to create much and cement their authority despite having the numerical advantage on a day when none of the three changes made by the Portuguese added any real value going forward.
This has become a regular occurrence for United in the Premier League that makes one wonder whether they actually are where they deserve to be – despite the numbers suggesting otherwise. This is the fourth time United have drawn a game despite having 20 shots on goal (more than any other side) and their tenth draw in a league where four of the top six are currently separated by only three points.
In the seven draws at Old Trafford this season, the Red Devils have had a whopping 136 shots, 49 on target but only managed to score 5 goals – that’s about an average of 0.7 goals per game against 19 attempts, which is definitely woeful.
United may be going in the right direction after a stagnant three year period, largely underpinned by the long unbeaten run they are in (1 loss in 27 games across all competitions), but they could do a hell of a lot better if they could manage to rid themselves of the loop they are stuck in at this point in time.