Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could not hide his frustration at Manchester United’s forwards after Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Chelsea saw the club’s disappointing run against the Premier League’s other so-called “big six” sides continued.
The match was overshadowed by the controversial decision of referee Stuart Attwell not to award United a first-half penalty when Callum Hudson-Odoi handled in the area – the official sticking to his decision despite looking at the incident on the pitchside monitor.
While Solskjaer and Luke Shaw vented their anger at the situation in post-match interviews, the manager’s news conference eventually turned to the other major talking point; United’s inability to score against the league’s better teams.
“We’re not scoring enough goals, that’s for sure,” Solskjaer told reporters.
He is not wrong – the draw at Stamford Bridge was the fourth successive 0-0 draw United have played out against other “big six” opposition, while they have not scored in any of their past six meetings with teams of this calibre.
“We’ve come away with another good clean sheet, but as I said before this game, the next step for this team is to win these games, get the goal we need to get three points,” he added.
0 – Manchester United have failed to score a single goal in their last six league meetings with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City or Spurs – each of their last four such matches have finished goalless. Apprehension. pic.twitter.com/tLAZTebomP
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 28, 2021
“Of course, we should have got a penalty and I’d back Bruno [Fernandes] any day of the week, but we didn’t have the right quality at the end in the four or five good breakaways in the second half.”
While United did have 11 shots on Sunday, their xG (expected goals) rating was a poor 0.4 – Chelsea’s was 1.16. While this suggests Thomas Tuchel’s men were more wasteful, it also highlights the visitors struggled to craft quality chances.
This is by no means a new phenomenon in games of such magnitude either – United’s overall xG in the matches in question is just 4.9, by no means a huge figure, yet they’re still underperforming significantly in this area given their actual record of none scored.
“We haven’t had the quality, fine margins or luck,” Solskjaer said when asked to explain United’s issues in these games.
“Today, it was mostly about the lack of quality in the last third. We had some moments when we were close, had some great counter opportunities, [but the] last pass or cross wasn’t good enough.
“[We had] some near moments of course, Fred and Mason [Greenwood] had a few decent attempts, but we didn’t have enough. That’s the next step for us, and we will improve.
“Last season we had some great results but in a different manner. At the moment we try to develop this style and develop ourselves to win these games. Everything was really good defensively.”
And that is perhaps the salient point – United have improved defensively in these games, with the solitary goal conceded in this run being a penalty against Arsenal.
2 – Chelsea and Manchester United have drawn 0-0 in both of their league meetings in a season for just the second time, having last done so back in 1921-22. Tepid. pic.twitter.com/oAcovquVu9
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 28, 2021
But there’s a chance this altered approach is impacting United’s effectiveness going forward, with Solskjaer’s men potentially preferring to play out a draw instead of going for it and risking defeat.
After all, United’s shot count of 66 in the past six clashes with “big six” opposition is less than the 74 they’ve faced. While they may not be constantly sitting back, they’re also not as threatening as the opponents.
The key to understanding this shift may lie with the game directly before the aforementioned run – it was the remarkable 6-1 defeat to Tottenham.
Only Solskjaer knows if that battering – which was obviously not helped by a sending off – has been playing on the minds of himself and his players, but it’s also a thought former United captain Roy Keane has had.
“Maybe they are scarred from the Spurs game. I don’t know the scoop, we’re just guessing,” Keane said. “But maybe their mindset is [impacted] going into these games. We’ve seen poor games.
“Sometimes you have a 0-0 and it’s a fantastic game, the keepers are fantastic, missed penalties or whatever. But some of these games we’ve watched and covered have been really boring, considering there’s some really good attacking players in the team.”
For better or worse, United don’t have to wait long for another opportunity to put this run right – the Manchester derby is less than a week away.