What keeps going wrong for Manchester United in semi-finals?

Manchester United lost another semi-final this week, the fourth loss at this stage in the past 12 months.

The big game failures are a source of frustration for staff, players and fans, with the defeats showing United have plenty of work still to do?

So why do United keep hitting a brick wall? Well, the tough draws don’t help. Spurs on the other hand landed a soft tie against Brentford as opposed to City. But Pep Guardiola’s side are beatable and United have shown it recently too, Solskjaer’s job just failed to get the job done when it counts.

Let’s look back at the past three semi-final defeats, throwing out the two-legged Carabao Cup tie last year which was pre-Fernandes and also impacted by injuries.

United lost 3-1 to Chelsea in the FA Cup in July, 2-1 to Sevilla in the Europa League in August, and then 2-0 to City this past week.


Photo by PETER POWELL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Lack of goals is a big concern

Before looking to the backline, the glaring statistic from the three defeats is the lack of goals.

United have scored just two goals in these three matches, and both of these came from penalties, both netted by Fernandes.

So this leaves United failing to score an open play goal in the past three semi-finals. No wonder we can’t get a win.

The Sevilla defeat was a clear result of poor finishing. United had 20 shots at goal and seven on target.

In the Chelsea loss United had seven shots and three on target, and 11 attempts against City this week but only two on target, both courtesy of Fernandes.

United’s strikers are failing. The Anthony Martial experiment is inconsistent. Despite scoring a ‘proper striker’s goal’ against Villa days earlier, he turned in a terrible display against City. He missed big chances against Sevilla, and was ineffective against Chelsea.

Marcus Rashford’s knack of scoring in big games has deserted him when it matters.

United have moved to address this by signing Edinson Cavani, and it was particularly unfortunate and some would say farcical that he was banned for this match. We might not be talking about a lack of goals and even a defeat, had he been available. The team needs a ‘proper striker’ and Cavani is exactly that.

Some of the responsibility for the lack of goals also falls onto the midfield and full-backs. No player against City created more than a single chance.

The City and Chelsea defeats saw United struggle to create goalscoring opportunities. Creative players like Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are capable of better and must also up their own contribution in these crucial games.

Defensive mistakes

The lack of goals intensifies the pressure on United’s defence. And in all three games the team has wilted.

A common theme in these matches has been defensive errors, and Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire as a pairing have not stepped up. It is time to try something new next time.

In the FA Cup, United did go with a different approach, playing three at the back with Eric Bailly in the mix. While all three were on the pitch, United did not concede a goal. All of Chelsea’s three goals came when it was a back two.

The defending was farcical, with Victor Lindelof beaten at the near post by Olivier Giroud for one, David de Gea made an individual error for another, with Harry Maguire topping it off with an own goal.

Lindelof was also at fault for Sevilla’s winner, while against City, he, Maguire and even Luke Shaw were asleep for John Stones’ opener, with nobody taking command of the situation at a set piece and clearing the cross.

Photo by Matt McNulty – Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

United have options, bringing in Bailly, or even Axel Tuanzebe if he can prove himself over the coming months. Signing an additional defender remains a possibility.

Playing in semi-finals you will nearly always come up against big teams, who will unpick the defence. United have just been unable to do this ourselves.

Whether you place more importance on the attacking failure, or the defensive lapses, it is clear United are below the standard required, and have plenty of work to do.

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