Belfast Telegraph

How goals aren't the only thing Solskjaer's United are in need of


Blown it: Paul Pogba after wasting a golden chance
Blown it: Paul Pogba after wasting a golden chance

By Mark Critchley

When a pundit is asked to identify what's gone wrong with a particular team and responds with words to the effect of "not enough goals for me, Gary", you can rightly feel somewhat short-changed. No team scores enough goals. Everybody would like to score more.

It is the simplest, least sophisticated criticism you can level at any group of players and their manager. In some cases, though, it is appropriate.

Manchester United have scored more than one goal in just one of their eight games at the start of this new season. That 4-0 victory over Chelsea on the opening weekend was only the third game in which they have scored twice or more since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's permanent appointment as manager back in March. Even two generous cup games in quick succession this past week have not produced goals.

Last week, Kazakhstan champions Astana limited a youthful United to just one strike from Mason Greenwood. On Wednesday, Rochdale managed to do the same. Currently 17th in League One after shipping 14 goals in nine games, they were more resolute against a United attack which was often disjointed and happy to speculate from range.

United ultimately needed a penalty shoot-out to beat their neighbours, who cancelled out Greenwood's goal through 16-year-old Luke Matheson.

"We go 1-0 up in many games," Solskjaer said. "Today, you go 1-0 up and you think, 'Come on, get the second'. At this club you don't sit back and hope that is enough. If you settle for good enough, that is not what we want."

But in order to score more goals, you need to create better quality chances. That is a problem for United, even if it would be wrong to suggest they failed to create any openings whatsoever against Rochdale.

An unmarked Paul Pogba spurned one decent opportunity by heading over. Similarly, Marcos Rojo ended one quick counter-attack by nodding wide.

But few of United's 31 attempts on goal were of any real quality, which is maybe why only eight were on target. The fact that Rojo had seven of those 31 shots feels instructive. He attempted as many as Greenwood, but the majority were taken from a distance and as a last resort.

This is nothing new. Look at any game in which United have dropped points since August and identify big, clear-cut opportunities aside from penalty kicks. There are not many and far fewer than their top-six rivals.

When able to play on the counter-attack against a young Chelsea under Frank Lampard for the first time, it suited them. They had ample space. That hasn't been the case since.

Altogether, it adds up to a side which still does not appear to know how to overcome an organised defence. The draw with Rochdale was the 22nd game of Solskjaer's tenure in which United have dominated possession. They have failed to win 13 of those, losing eight. Of the nine victories, four came last Christmas. There has been only one -against Astana - since Solskjaer took permanent charge.

If you let Solskjaer's United have the ball, they probably will not beat you. We can now add to this: United might score one, but will seldom score more. Both need to change if the Norwegian's first full season at Old Trafford is to be a success. Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Belfast Telegraph


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