What We Learned: Zlatan’s confidence, lack of strikers, Mark Clattenburg and more!

Manchester United have been held to their third draw in past four games and this time by Burnley. The game was very similar to the Stoke City one earlier this month, only more frustrating. This United performance was one of the best performances in the season, only if they could have scored one goal, it could have got the right amount of points that it deserved. The statistics of this game are baffling and how United forwards did not succeed in scoring, is something that will continue to haunt every United fan for some time. This might be a good time (or maybe not) to reflect upon what we learned in this game. There are lots of points, but let’s focus on a few of them.Great United performance, scoreline not doing justice to it

Great United performance, scoreline not doing justice to it

Yes, it was a frustrating game of football but there are no two ways about it being one of United’s better performances this season. United, earlier, in the first month, scraped out victories in spite of being only slightly above average. This has now turned completely upside down, where in the past few games, barring Chelsea, United have been much better than the start of the season but have not had the result that they should have. If not for poor finishing United could have been nine points (Stoke City, Liverpool and Burnley) ahead of where they are, which basically would have put them on top of the table.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is short on confidence and benching him would help him.

Ibrahimovic could have had at least 5-6 goals in the past four games and it could have significantly turned around United’s situation. In spite of how confident he usually seems, it does seem that he is currently having a little problem with that. The reaction to the last-minute miss from him, which came from the Paul Pogba cross, gave a complete picture of how the prolific striker is showing lack of confidence in front of the goal. A few games from the bench, to come on as an impact sub, might actually be what he needs right now. Player of his stature would respond strongly to getting dropped. What it will also do is get the fans off his back, who have been after him for couple of games already.

Manchester United lack strikers

Wayne Rooney is already sidelined from starting the United league games and with Ibrahimovic missing all these chances for past 3-4 games, he might be too for some games. United, in that case, only have Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay who can be deployed up front in the Swedish hero’s absence. Rashford is already playing a lot more games that he should have as per Mourinho’s plan A. He is only in his teens and playing so much at such high level might actually do him harm than good. Add to that Martial’s poor form and Memphis’s lack of game time and United are basically left with no one else to be their scoring man upfront. United had one of the best, if not the best transfer window this season, but this United job is not a one transfer window work and will need a couple more at the very least. Striker is what should be on Mourinho’s list for the upcoming ones.

Refereeing did United in

Agreed that United did not take any of their numerous chances but they were not helped by the officials as well. A penalty denied late in the first half, an unbelievable yellow that meant a Red card for Ander Herrera and sending off for the manager for being too open about his displeasure, being a few amongst the terrible decisions taken. Having the manager on the touchline to take the decisions immediately makes a lot of difference so when Mourinho had to communicate about the change in tactics using notes, it meant the tactical adjustments were going to be an issue. United were going all guns blazing in the second half but the aforementioned red card meant United had to deal with the remaining of the time, not just looking for a win but also to avoid a defeat. The 20 odd minutes with an extra player could have been very different from what they actually were. It might also have been the reason for the baffling substitution of taking Juan Mata off, while being the best player on the pitch. That brings us to the next point of discussion.

Substitutions and poor corners did not help

Rooney and Marouane Fellaini for Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford, does not sound ok, whichever way you look at it. Mata who was the most influential player on the pitch, who looked like the only one who could have scored, was taken off for Rooney, who has been poor since the beginning of the season. Now, as said earlier it might have had to do with the red to Herrera, but these two substitutions hardly did anything to change the course of the game. Imagine having Mata instead of Rooney for that late, injury time chance from the free kick. Mourinho has been taking Mata off after the 60 minutes mark but he was what United needed for the whole 90 minutes today. Also, bringing Memphis on with only 10 minutes on the clock won’t do any good to him or the team.

United, today, had 19 corners awarded to them and not one caused any sort of troubles. Burnley did have more adept personnel for set pieces but so did United. With Ibrahimovic, Pogba and Fellaini. Poor in the eleven, at least one of those 19 corners should have resulted in something better.


It makes one wonder if this has anything to do with the non-footballing skills of the players. Mental toughness is one of the key areas which not many people focus on while looking at the performances. Yes, United played well and created in abundance, but what can be the reason for not finishing any of them. Surely, the footballing ability is not the issue here. These players have made it to one of the top most clubs of the World and they wouldn’t have if they did not have that footballing abilities. But the mental attributes of an individual can only be assessed when he is put in a certain situation. This might be one of the problems that Mourinho is facing in the background. He said in his presser yesterday that this United team is full of youngster who do not necessarily know “how to win in every situation”. It just confirms that this job of rebuilding United to be the mega-power of footballing world, is closer to the start line than the finishing line. Hopefully Mourinho is given time and patience that is needed for it and the progress will be there to see. Till then, lets just feel content in the fact that there has been immense development in the game play when we compare it to the games that we played last season.

Written by Chinmay Padhye


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