Manchester United once again reminded fans and pundits that progress will ultimately be impossible for them while they have a severe lack of creativity in midfield.

Juan Mata was brought on to supposedly provide some incision for United as the Reds looked for a winner against Everton. Mason Greenwood had produced a piece of individual brilliance to find the equaliser.

Mata substitution highlighted United’s major problem

The Spaniard has long passed his best and represents the underinvestment in the United side in this regard. The club allegedly targeted Newcastle United midfielder Sean Longstaff in the summer as if that would solve their problems. In reality, they laid all hopes on keeping Paul Pogba. With the Frenchman injured since September, the inability to create chances has been exposed.

Everton were there for the taking on Sunday afternoon. Though interim boss Duncan Ferguson masterminded a 3-1 win over Chelsea last week, the Toffees were, in truth, not that great at Old Trafford.

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United are too predictable

Any kind of variety in United’s play would have got them a win. But instead, things are far too predictable. Marcus Rashford is in a great spell of form but his trickery, speed and directness can’t work in every game. The same can be said of Dan James. Greenwood’s goal came from a piece of individual brilliance.

In big games, when space is available, United’s unvaried play doesn’t matter. As one of the best counter-attacking outfits in the league, they take apart open defences with ease. But when faced with an organised side who sit back, they’re useless.

Solskjaer needs creativity. Manchester United's Norwegian manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reacts at the end of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on December 15, 2019. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /  (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

If it hasn’t been made clear to the club’s management yet, it is blatantly obvious that United must spend money to fix this problem. If Mata is Solskjaer’s best option from the bench, and Lingard the best from the start, then there is a clear lack of quality.

Teams who sit back against United are coming up against a side who have no answers and are too easy to stop.

January provides United with a golden opportunity to fix creativity

January presents an opportunity for United. They have worked their way back into top four contention. A couple of great wins and a poor spell for Chelsea means United are now four points off. They could have been just two points behind if they had a player of quality in that number 10 role.

Solskjaer must be careful, though. One of his most successful tactics in big games has been the pressure from the forward line. Wins against City and Spurs showed that. Any quality attacking midfielder who arrives must also have the speed, attitude and stamina to work in such a line-up that forces mistakes from the opposition and counter-attacks. That’s why Paul Pogba would probably not work in that role.

The challenge for United is to continue from their good summer recruitment. They have the chance to improve their team but also demonstrate that their priorities have changed and their methods have, too.

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