Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was papering over the cracks when he said that the Red Devils created a number of openings against Southampton. The Norwegian was lamenting the team’s poor finishing after the game:
“I don’t know how many shots we’ve had today and in the last game against Palace but it’s a matter of taking the chances and that’s what football is all about, getting it inside the posts. But we’ll get there, we’re working on it.”
The truth is, though, United have struggled to break down teams that sit men behind the ball against them. Shots are not a reliable indicator of good attacking play. A clearer marker of United’s lack of creativity is the fact they have failed to achieve an xG of over 3 since January.
They achieved an expected goals figure of 3.27 in the 2-2 against Burnley at the start of the year, but since then, they have failed consistently to get above two. In contrast, Manchester City have achieved that figure seven times since the beginning of the year and averaged 2.27 for the whole of last season.
With United averaging 1.52 over the calendar year, it tells us that Solskjaer’s team are simply not creating as many clear cut chances. While you don’t expect to be opening up the opposition as often as City, the difference is wide enough to suggest that there is a problem to be addressed.
Solskjaer certainly doesn’t have players at his disposal like Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Bernardo Silva who can unlock defences. That is partly his own fault for not addressing this issue in the summer.
Jesse Lingard clearly doesn’t fit the mould either, after his struggles in the position in the opening weeks of the season, and while Juan Mata showed glimpses of what he can do against Southampton, it’s questionable whether he can be relied upon consistently to come up with the goods.
The 31-year-old has managed only nine assists over the last two seasons, and he doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of the type of player Solskjaer is looking for; a dynamic, fast playmaker who can turn defence into attack in an instant.
So who could the United manager turn to? One suggestion has been to consider Angel Gomes. The England Under 20 international is certainly a wildcard. He has yet to make his full debut, but his record at academy level suggests he has the goal threat and the creativity that Lingard lacks while adding the dynamism which is missing from Mata’s game.
Solskjaer has said he will look to start Gomes in the cups, and fans will be keenly anticipating the Carabao Cup tie against Rochdale to see if he can impress enough to force his way into the club’s first-team plans. Some may be hoping that he is considered for selection even before then, we shall have to wait and see.