United’s reliance on fine margins shows fundamental weakness

A couple of converted penalties, different refereeing decisions and headers hitting the back of the net and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United would be in a decent position.

A loss against Newcastle United was yet another fixture this season where Solskjaer’s Reds could have easily won. But they didn’t and therein lies in the fundamental problem. United cannot rely on converting one chance per game.

It wasn’t until the 41st minute that United had a shot on target at St. James’ Park. They should have been leading moments later when Harry Maguire headed wide from an excellent corner. That was on the stroke of half-time and most would have backed United to secure victory from there.

Fine margins holding Solskjaer back from success

Against AZ Alkmaar, Marcus Rashford was brought down in the box for a blatant penalty – VAR or not. No spot-kick was given and he nor his teammates could find a goal for the duration of the match. At Arsenal, Rashford should have scored to help United to victory. He didn’t. At West Ham, before Solskjaer’s team went behind, Juan Mata and Maguire had good chances.

Going back further in the season and United missed penalties against Wolves and Crystal Palace. Rashford and Pogba were the offenders. Had they been converted, perhaps this poor form would have been arrested in its infancy.

Yet that cannot be a defence, not a strong one at least. The fact these decisive moments are so memorable is a concern. United should be peppering the goals of some of the teams they have faced in these past weeks; Astana, Rochdale and even West Ham, Newcastle and Crystal Palace. They haven’t.

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

United averaging just 3.6 shots per game

With or without star player Paul Pogba, United can’t create chances. In the last five games, United have averaged 3.6 shots on target. With the quality of goalkeeping in the Premier League ever-improving, that’s not enough to win matches.

Solskjaer can be forgiven for most of the faults at United. The rot that the club finds itself in began at the very top and not because of the Norwegian. But injuries and ineptitude at boardroom level only offer so much of an excuse.

If he’s to keep his dream job then he must change the way this United side creates chances. If that means changing personnel, then so be it. If it means adapting the formation and style, so be it. If it’s both, so be it.

Game after game, his team are passengers throughout. There’s no spark, no regular patterns of play, no movement and no success. It’s a team on the slide and it’s not the backline that’s the problem.

Is there a solution?

If Solskjaer doesn’t want to change system, he could change his starting line-up. Playing three central attacking midfielders in Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard together is not going to work. Mason Greenwood should come in as a central striker, Marcus Rashford can be sent out wide where he’s better and Dan James can play on the other wing. A three-man midfield with Pogba, McTominay and one other may work. Axel Tuanzebe is a candidate for that third midfield spot after excelling in defence.

Otherwise, Solskjaer can consider a three-man defence that gives United more width, a solid base and an attack that can threaten in the central areas.

Whatever the fix, something must change. Solskjaer is closer and close to become the fourth victim of Ed Woodward’s commercial-obsessed management of Manchester United.

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Life-long Manchester United fan with a strong interest in the club's academy. Host of the Manchester United Weekly Podcast and United Through Time. First game at Old Trafford was the 7-1 rout of AS Roma in 2007.