Sunday 23 October 2016

Is this Manchester United team the most boring ever?

After three consecutive goalless draws and with Wayne Rooney unable to buy a goal, we ask if things have ever been any worse than under Louis van Gaal.

Alistair Tweedale

Published 01/11/2015 | 11:33

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney looks dejected against Crystal Palace.
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney looks dejected against Crystal Palace.

Manchester United’s draw at Crystal Palace on Saturday extended their run of consecutive goalless draws to three games.

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This is the first time they have embarked on such a run in nearly 11 years, the last instance occurring in January 2005.

At Selhurst Park they barely even looked like breaking the deadlock; prior to that they were wholly uninspired in the Capital One Cup against second tier Middlesbrough and barely created a chance of note in last week’s Manchester derby.

Three forgettable games make for a forgettable week for United, and pressure is mounting on Louis van Gaal to restore the team to their vigorous and brilliantly dominant ways of old. It is only the third time in their history that they have endured three successive goalless draws.

United have now played 325 minutes – or five hours and 25 minutes – of football without scoring or conceding a single goal, and fans may be starting to lose patience with their Dutch manager.

Van Gaal brought some much needed stability and pragmatism to a United team in dire need to direction after floating around aimlessly for a year following Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. However, the players look bereft of ideas or – as Paul Scholes suggested – worried about taking risks when they should select the simple option.

United are fourth in the Premier League but have scored only 15 goals – fewer than seven other teams including struggling Chelsea – despite having the second highest possession share, with 59 per cent.

Only Sunderland, meanwhile, have had fewer attempts on goal this season than United’s 77. That tally is also only just over half the amount that title rivals Manchester City (148) and Arsenal (143) have managed.

They are seeing plenty of the ball but doing very little with it, averaging a whopping 107 touches per attempt – 15 more than every other team and 58 more than high-flying and devastatingly effective Leicester.

Defensively they are sound enough but the fans probably aren’t content with the current state of affairs.

So is this the most boring Manchester United team ever? Part of the 2005 run of three successive 0-0s was a second string team including the likes of Jonathan Spector and Liam Miller drawing with Exeter as well as a League Cup semi-final first leg stalemate at Stamford Bridge. The current run – which is longer due to the period of extra time against Middlesbrough – contains no such excuse.

The problem centres around Wayne Rooney and the continued decision to persist with him through the middle an Anthony Martial out wide, something that Jonathan Liew described as ‘like turning down the world’s best steak dinner because you have a leftover Ginsters pasty in the fridge’.

Martial is United’s top scorer – albeit with only three goals – while Rooney’s troubles have been well documented. A fortunate goal against Sunderland ended a run of 11 matches without scoring, and he has failed to build on the goal he added at Everton shortly after. All of a sudden, Rooney has built up a new drought of 372 minutes.

Martial aside – with Juan Mata lacking form and Memphis Depay struggling to settle – there is very little in terms of excitement in this Manchester United team.

Three consecutive goalless draws and very little even in terms of genuine goal threat gives weight to the argument that this is the dullest United team in recent memory, and possibly even of all time.

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