Yet again, Manchester United drew a game that they should have won. Yet again, a disappointing result followed subpar finishing in front of goal. Here are three things we learned from the 1-1 draw at Anderlecht.
Anthony Martial’s form is cause for concern
Anthony Martial had arguably his worst appearance in a United shirt yesterday. Brought on to replace Jesse Lingard with half an hour to go, Martial was meant to provide some cutting edge to an attack that had so far severely missed one. Instead, the Frenchman put on abominable display, and was by some distance the worst player on the pitch. He failed to dribble past his defender even a single time, and looked so scared to try anything that he spent most of his time on the ball doing much of nothing at all.
There was one telling moment where he picked up the ball in a central area, with no other attackers ahead of him. But instead of driving at the defense, and waiting for support to arrive, Martial froze like a deer in headlights, and was easily robbed. He did at least track back, perhaps eager to prove to Mourinho that he can do the hard work that the manger expects. But at the actual job that he was brought on to do - being better at Lingard should not be a huge task for a player of Martial’s ability - he was an abject failure.
Mourinho is right about the finishing
It’s been atrocious all season. If we had bought stock in the terms “poor finish,” and “frustrating draw,” before the season, we’d all be rich now. For all his goals, Ibrahimović misses his fair share of sitters, and the aforementioned Martial and Marcus Rashford have both regressed this season. Against Anderlecht, Rashford did everything well (except score), but Martial didn’t look like he would score if he stayed on the pitch for a week. Jesse Lingard has a knack for a the occasional cup final cracker, but he lacks the quality to be relied on for consistent output. Pogba is the only midfielder who even arrives in goal-scoring positions, but at some point all those near-misses can no longer be put down to mere bad luck.
With Juan Mata out for the season, United need their other attackers to step up in production.
...but he needs to start looking in the mirror
At what point will Mourinho start accepting some of the responsibility for United’s shortcomings? We can all see that the finishing has been bad. And there is value in challenging your players publicly, to see how they respond. But Mourinho’s eagerness to point the finger everywhere but at himself is starting to grate. Finishing, like most other actions on a football pitch, can be improved in training. Mourinho is renowned for his attention to detail and level of preparedness when training his teams on defensive schemes and organization, but is he doing enough on attacking situations? The players themselves have to take some responsibility for their chronic wastefulness in front of goal, but with Mourinho continuing to place blame on their shoulders, it’s fair to ask if he’s doing enough himself to address the problem.
Aside from the technical and tactical side of things, Mourinho has some cheek to continue to moan about his attackers lacking confidence. After all, isn’t it his job to help instill that confidence? Shouldn’t we expect that such a famed man-manager would be improving young players instead of diminishing them?
Mourinho’s substitutions have continued to underwhelm as well, and yesterday was another example of poor game management. Sending on Marouane Fellaini for Marcus Rashford was a negative substitution, and it backfired. United really should have continued to push for more goals, but instead Mourinho attempted to put a stranglehold on midfield and see out the 1-0 win. The effect of Fellaini’s introduction was that United - with their major attacking threat removed - sank deeper into their own half, and invited more pressure than they had been previously. And as good as Anderlecht’s goal was, it was Fellaini that should have been checking over his shoulder for the player arriving in the box.
It isn’t the first time this season that Mourinho’s subs have been either ineffective or downright costly. He needs to do better.