Manchester United quietly getting into form

Dec 17, 2016
Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

If Manchester United avoid defeat against West Brom on Saturday, it would be their 10th game in a row without a loss.

That probably wouldn’t have been a stat worth bragging about in years gone by, but in a season that has seen United beaten by Watford and thrashed by Chelsea, the stability the team has found in recent weeks is reassuring to fans.

Unlike when United was under Louis van Gaal and David Moyes, fans haven’t been complaining about the style of football, but they haven’t been happy with the results either.

More shots, lack goals

Under manager Jose Mourinho, United have averaged more shots per game this season than league leaders Chelsea, and only Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have a better passing accuracy, yet when it comes to goals scored United are ranked eighth in the league.

When you look at the quality players United have up front, it’s baffling as to why they’ve drawn so many games, but there is hope that the wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace are the start of something better.

Paul Pogba has begun to show his dominance in games, even if everything he does is dismissed as not impressive enough because of his price tag.

He scored one and assisted the other in United’s 2-1 win over Palace but was still derided on social media by rival supporters, as if he should be doing more, and doing it every single game.

The France international has completed over 100 passes more for United than any of his teammates, and regularly is central to the side’s best moves.

His linkup play with Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been excellent, with the pair playing as though they’ve been in the same team for years, not months.

The Sweden striker is on 14 goals for the season, a tally that rival strikers Diego Costa and Alexis Sanchez haven’t surpassed.

Ibrahimovic has eight goals in his last eight games.

Having missed several sitters, he’s enjoying some great form, and will want that to continue Saturday against West Brom at the Hawthorns.

The dynamic between Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic has the look of a pair that’s been together for years.

Manchester Utd v West Bromwich AlbionFamiliar West Brom faces will be posed with the job of stopping United’s highest earners.

Captain Darren Fletcher will be tasked with denying Pogba space to dominate, and Jonny Evans needs to keep out Zlatan.

A few months ago, United fans were wondering why these two players were allowed to go, when their replacements were inferior. Fletcher is clearly a better player than Marouane Fellaini, yet Ander Herrera is the only midfielder with more appearances for United this season.

It looked as though Eric Bailly was United’s only better central defender than Evans, as Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling have impressed no one, though Phil Jones has been brilliant since returning from injury a couple of months ago.

West Brom are having a great season so far, with their only defeats over the past three months coming against Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.

West Brom’s best form has come on the road, though.

They have won only half the games they’ve played at home.

Late goals

Likewise, United have picked up more points away from home and, after their recent results, will be full of confidence.

Having conceded more goals in the final 10 minutes than any club in the Premier League, United was encouraged by the 88th-minute winner they scored midweek.

On paper United have a great stretch of games ahead over the next month, with real potential for them to close in on the top four if they go on a run of good results.

With a break from the Europa League too, which has meant a string of Thursday and Sunday games that Mourinho is not a fan of, United have the potential to close the gap.

Injured Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan return for Manchester United has been put on hold.
Injured Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan return for Manchester United has been put on hold.

There had been hopes that Henrikh Mkhitaryan would return to the team, after two goals in two starts before his ankle injury against Tottenham Hotspur, but Mourinho has ruled the Armenian midfielder out.

Juan Mata and Anthony Martial are vying for Mkhitaryan’s place in the team, though, and both are more than capable of making a winning impact.

The loss of Mkhitaryan will be felt, as no one else has shown such direct attacking play, but the competition for places should mean good performances are drawn out of his competitors.

United fans won’t be bothered about the quality of the performance on Saturday afternoon, but a win is all-important.

Against Newcastle two decades ago, United came back from 12 points behind in the Premier League table, but there’s no hope of doing the same to topple Chelsea.

United’s aspiration has to be finishing in the top four, and a win against West Brom could set those wheels in motion.