It was another frustrating and dire performance at Old Trafford as Manchester United finished with yet another 1-1 result, this time against Swansea.
Wayne Rooney’s first-half penalty was cancelled out by Gylfi Sigurðsson’s brilliant freekick as United lost ground in the race for the top four. The disappointing result was compounded by an injury to the one player United did not want to lose in Eric Bailly as well as an early injury to Luke Shaw.
A big problem
As much as United’s biggest worry at the moment is the loss of defenders, when everything is taken into context, United are not where they are as a result of issues in defence but because of a lack of quality in attack. This was evident again as United’s attack were bereft of quality and ideas.
Anthony Martial, and in particular, Marcus Rashford seem to go from world beater to bang average from game to game, something which is probably expected given the age of the players. But in the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimović, United need more from their young attackers. The same applies to Jesse Lingard who, despite being a willing runner, often lacks the quality needed in the final third and fails to deliver on a consistent level.
Wayne Rooney who scored United’s solitary goal from the spot showed why the club are willing to part with him in the summer. The United captain had the best chance to double the lead which he missed before clumsily giving away the free kick that led to Swansea’s equaliser. But, it was his overall performance that was more telling as Rooney struggled to stamp his authority on the game and did not pose any threat to the Swansea team.
It begs the question of the logic behind Manchester United’s January sales of Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin. Despite Mourinho’s protestations of giving in to what the players wanted, both sales were made to the detriment of the club. United could have definitely done with Schneiderlin’s presence in the midfield these last couple of games while Depay would have provided more quality than both Lingard and Rooney as well as competition for Rashford and Martial when they are out of sorts.
Such short-termism may cost United in the long term if the team do not go ahead to win the Europa League this season, which currently stands as the team’s best chance of qualifying for the Champions League.
The absence of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba and even the direct option that Marouane Fellaini provides was clearly missed by United on Sunday. Even with that taken into consideration, United were very poor as an attacking unit.
Rashford and Martial still need help to bring out the best in them, a role Rooney couldn’t fulfil on Sunday. The return of Juan Mata could not have come soon enough. The Spaniard’s undoubted ability in creating chances and his quality of passing and finishing in the final third is something United have missed. But for injuries to two defenders that robbed Jose Mourinho of two substitutions, it is very likely Mata would have been thrown in to salvage the game.
A crucial summer
Whatever happens at the end of the season, whether it ends with United in the Champions League or not, United need to fix their lack of quality up front as a matter of urgency come the summer. The last couple of weeks have supported Mourinho’s belief that neither Rashford nor Martial are ready to lead the line for Manchester United. In spite of the criticisms against Ibrahimović, he has been a big miss for the Reds.
With the Swedish centre forward unavailable for the rest of the year amidst questions around his United future and with Wayne Rooney expected to depart as well, José Mourinho has a big job to ensure he gets the right attacking player to provide the added bit of quality which can make the difference between fighting for the title or fighting for the top four.
Until then, United must hope that Martial and Rashford show their best side in their Europa League matches and save their inconsistency for the Premier League. Mourinho must find the right balance of players and quality to get his team over the line.
It’s almost in the territory of Europa League or bust for United but if the club are to avoid being in the same position again next season, they must invest heavily in the final third this summer in players that will make the 1-1 draws at Old Trafford this season a distant memory.