After all the discussion about the Manchester United team that started the game against Arsenal, and all the debate over what its 2-2 end result meant, clarity comes with a mere glance at the Premier League table.
Any such draw is only “good” relative to how bad their situation really is.
It is December, with 15 games gone, and Jose Mourinho’s team are responsible for the following list of facts.
- They are now four games without a win, and 18 points behind Manchester City.
- They are eight points off the Champions League places.
- They still have a negative goal difference, having conceded more than nine other clubs.
- They are back behind Bournemouth in the table, in eighth.
This, again, is December. This, again, is Manchester United.
It really does bear repeating just how bad that is.
It remains atrocious underperformance, no matter what way anyone dresses it up or what issues – like the dropping of Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku – deflect attention. Their absence from the side didn’t change much, beyond the cosmetic. United were still awful at the back despite playing five defenders and three centre-halves.
It points to this malaise that is just engulfing the club, with the manager the most immediate problem, if not the only one.
Just as it was remarkable that Mourinho’s Chelsea champions dropped so drastically in 2015/16, it is remarkable that last season’s second-placed side have done similar now.
It should also be relayed that those stats should improve. Should.
After United travel to Anfield next week, they have a very forgiving Christmas schedule: Cardiff City away, Huddersfield Town at home, that mid-table clash with Bournemouth at Old Trafford and then Newcastle United away.
It’s just, under Mourinho, trips to Anfield have never really been the problem. He has remained capable of getting results in such games and, as this draw with Arsenal only re-iterated, capable of getting a response from the team just when things look about to get terminal. He has certainly repeatedly arrested that this season.
The flip side, however, is that it doesn’t feel like there are any guarantees against the rest. United have played 11 games against the “other 14” and dropped points in five of them – just short of half. Crystal Palace and Southampton are the only latest to frustrate them, to so hurt their defence.
Hence a bit of a consistent run – more than two wins in a row for the first time this season – would at least show they can return to something like normality.
It’s just that Mourinho should not be reframed what that “normality” is. It is not eighth in the table. It shouldn’t even be fifth or a battle for fourth. By their resources and this squad, United should really be comfortably in the top three.
No debate about any single game changes that.
And what if they don’t improve? What if those sides continue to frustrate them?
It is a truer reflection of the situation that it is by no means clear they will improve.
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