How can Manchester United score more goals this season?

Manchester United have major problems in scoring goals, not just this season, but the previous three also. Under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson, goals really were not an issue. I wrote about this and the start of the problems a few days back, which led me to write about how I feel the goals could return this season, seemingly solving a problem which could see United finish on a high, so to speak. The last two matches in the Premier League resulted in a 0-0 draw against West Bromwich Albion and a 1-1 draw with Everton. United face Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, in a match which will need to see an attacking United side punish their hosts, or the chances of earning a UEFA Champions League place through their league position, which is already slim, will be out of the window. United were pushed back into sixth place in the league after Arsenal beat West Ham United 3-0 on Wednesday evening, leaving United level on points with a lot to do between now and the end of the season. In the league alone, United have scored 43 goals this season, which is clearly not enough.

Liverpool’s draw with Bournemouth at Anfield and Manchester City’s defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge will give United another chance to play catch up, but failing to capitalise on this will be something Jose Mourinho and his side will look back on at the end of the season, perhaps wondering what went wrong. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 27 goals in all competitions this season, which is great in that he’s the first player to reach this tally in a few seasons, and to think he’s 35 years old would suggest his teammates need to take a long hard look at themselves, seeing what they can do to give more to the club they play for. Over the last three seasons, the attitudes of some players have been questionable. Some have flaunted their wealth off the pitch, doing nothing on it in order to be able to flaunt anything. Others seemed to want to fight to the end, which is more of the spirit which is needed across the board at the club. This, though, is something that will not happen, at least in a simple sense. Players these days seem happy to turn up to training, play in matches, go home and live their lives.

When things do not go all that well for Manchester United, you get players issuing public apologies, suggesting how they want to fight for what is right, change the direction of the club, then enter a ‘Groundhog Day’ aspect by doing the same, saying the same, then people question their commitment to the cause. This sort of thing is rife in the game, not only at Manchester United but at other clubs too. It gives me the impression that many players are happy to show fight, at least in a public verbal sense, yet not follow their words with actions on the pitch, raking in the cash at the end of the day. Footballers these days are considered celebrities from day one, achieving that stature through a lot of work, but failing to put in that effort the majority of the time. Not all footballers do this, but there are many who have in the past and are still doing this now. If you are going to commit to something, following those actions is necessary. If you are going to fight until the end, show that fight on the pitch, rather than in front of the media.

Now, back to the subject, just what can Manchester United do to score more goals? This season has seen many different starting lineups, different formations, plus the addition of suspensions, injuries hampering the odds of United changing direction and achieving something in the line of progression after nearly four seasons of obscurity. United did turn a corner under the leadership of Jose Mourinho this season, starting well, hitting a few problems in the form of three straight defeats, then working on changing it all again to get an unbeaten streak sorted, which hit a few problems, as everything does. United, at this moment in time, are unbeaten in their last 20 Premier League matches, winning ten and drawing ten, which takes away the feat of being unbeaten in 20 matches. This is where United have fallen short this season, too many draws in the league, twelve in total, three away from home and nine at Old Trafford. In many cases, these results could have been different if goals were something that were achievable by Manchester United.

Looking back at this season, in all competitions, United have scored three or more goals thirteen times this season; six times in the Premier League – Bournemouth 3-1, Leicester City 4-1, Swansea City 3-1, Sunderland 3-1, Leicester City 3-0 and Middlesbrough 3-1. Twice United have scored four times in the Emirates FA Cup; Reading 4-0 and Wigan Athletic 4-0. In the EFL Cup, United beat Northampton Town 3-1, West Ham United 4-1 and Southampton 3-2. Then in the UEFA Europa League, United have beaten Fenerbahce 4-1, Feyenoord 4-0, and Saint-Etienne 3-0. United should have capitalised by scoring more goals in other matches this season, especially at home, which where it looks like the problems have arisen, at least this season. Teams seem to know how United will play, then set up for a draw, which frustrates. Breaking down this threat seems to be a major part in how United have struggled. Look at West Bromwich Albion for instance. Tony Pulis’ side played the tactical game at Old Trafford, taking a point away, then in their next match, they were beaten 2-0 by Watford. If United were more clinical in front of goal, this could have been different.

Paul Pogba has hit the woodwork, so to speak, nine times in all competitions this season, the same as Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. This may all be down to luck, but if it was on United’s side, it could have changed some matches, at least. United’s attacking players just have not done enough this season, seeing a reliance on Ibrahimovic, which may or may not be a factor in the fact that United just have not been so great in front of goal. Looking at United’s attacking players; Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Jesse Lingard, Wayne Rooney, Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini, you would think that there were goals aplenty there, but in actual fact, things are just not taking off for United attacking players. Between them, a total of 79 goals have been scored in all competitions, but when you look at the final three seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson, 78 (2010/11), 89 (2011/12) and 86 (2012/13) goals were scored in the Premier League alone, suggesting that there are not enough players with the ability to find the back of the net on a regular basis.

How can this change this season, without reinforcement you ask? This is something that cannot be answered in words, as it really needs to happen in practice, but changing the formation to add some attacking fluidity, will go a long way in helping to solve it, this season at least. United have some players who are more passengers than ones who can change games, that seems to be something Mourinho is working out and will change during the summer, but wholesale changes may not happen in one transfer window, but the more important positions will be fortified. We have seen the likes of Luke Shaw finding it hard to impress the manager in training, sitting out of matches for whatever reason, then when given a chance, they impress and are then dropped again. This sort of thing needs to change – some players need more than one game to establish themselves into the team, with a run of matches being more favourable. Looking at the formation and the players in this lineup might well create something, especially against Sunderland, who will be looking to take advantage of Mourinho’s side, fighting for their Premier League future, which looks dire.

David De Gea picks himself in the team but Sergio Romero has impressed at different stages this season, coming in without a run of matches, taking the chances he has been given. Antonio Valencia at right-back is a decision that solves itself as he has been one of, if not, the Player of the Season for United. Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo partnering in central defence, no other real options due to injuries. Luke Shaw at left-back, giving him another game to establish himself. If you don’t get the chance, you cannot take it. Midfield is a problem. Michael Carrick has not been great of late, so giving Daley Blind a chance there, or even Timothy Fosu-Mensah may be more favourable for the now and the future. Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba pick themselves in midfield too. The attacking power and pace United have, needs to be utilised with Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan flanking Zlatan Ibrahimovic, giving pace and strength on the attack, something needed to dominate. I am not saying this would work all of the time, but taking one match at a time, could well give United something more to celebrate at the end of the season. Two chances to earn a UEFA Champions League place

There are two chances for Manchester United to earn a UEFA Champions League place; through a top-four Premier League place, or winning the UEFA Europa League. Whilst the Premier League option is pretty slim, unless things change this weekend, with the Europa League being their best chance, opting for one over the other may well bring rewards, but it could blow up in the face of Mourinho and Manchester United. If two chances are available, two chances need to be taken, at least until the objective has been completed. Needless to say, Manchester United have been underachieving for nearly four years now, things do need to change.

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