Manchester United’s draw with Stoke City at the weekend was disappointing and frustrating for several reasons.
The visit of Stoke was the perfect opportunity for United to build on the momentum of the previous week’s excellent performance against Leicester City. It was a chance to record a fourth straight win and really consign the recent run of three successive defeats in the past, making the barren run seem like a blip rather than a continuing issue.
And as much as anything else, it was a game which really should have amounted to a routine victory for José Mourinho’s men. Stoke were (and remain) winless in the Premier League this season, and only had two points to their name as they travelled to Old Trafford.
As infuriating as it may feel to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory, dropping points against sub-par opposition in what should have been a soft ball of a fixture, the result and performance should be no cause for major concern for United.
This was not the kind of bore draw that was so prominent during Louis van Gaal’s Old Trafford tenure. This was not the sort of performance in which United regressed to the level of an inferior foe.
This was a game in which the Red Devils created ample chances. If this match were to be replayed 10 times, you’d bank on United to take the spoils on nine occasions.
The home side mustered 24 shots to Stoke’s seven; nine attempts on target to their six; a 67 per cent share of possession and 468 completed passes compared to 186 by Mark Hughes’ men.
It was simply a question of poor finishing from United and some inspired goalkeeping from Lee Grant that led to José Mourinho’s side having to share the points.
So should the poor finishing against Stoke be a worry for Mourinho? No necessarily.
Of the regular attacking players, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a shots per goal average of 4.8, Juan Mata’s is 1.3, Marcus Rashford’s is 1.4 and Anthony Martial’s is just 1.1. This would suggest that, ordinarily, United are fairly efficient in front of goal.
It would be more of a problem if opportunities were not being created, but United made five "clear cut" chances on Sunday, compared to zero for Stoke. And the Red Devils currently average over 17 shots per game in the Premier League.
The expected goals metric is much maligned by those with a mistrust of statistics but it is usually a pretty fair indicator of which team was on top in a given match. The xG map for the Stoke draw (pictured below) shows that United created enough offense to comfortably see off their opponents.
xG map for United - Stoke. Probably Manchester United's strongest xG performance of the season. pic.twitter.com/fYTK6ZX7OW— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) February 2, 2016
The result would have been much more concerning had United struggled to put a shot on target, as was often the case last season.
Was it annoying? Sure. Was it complacent to surrender a lead to poor opposition? Absolutely.
But Mourinho was bullish in his post-match interview, insisting that this was one of his side’s best performances to date and, while the result was hard to accept, his assesment has some merit.
United are a club still with problems, we know this. But Sunday’s result was not really evidence of them. Some of the recent performances have been poor, but this one felt more like an anomaly.