Jose paying the penalty for United's run of 'bad luck'
From looking ahead in the hope of hauling back runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City only a few weeks ago, Manchester United are now gazing over their shoulder, worried about the threat from behind.
A third successive draw ensured Jose Mourinho's side finished the year in third place, a point adrift of a resurgent Chelsea.
And with an in-form Liverpool also breathing down their necks and Arsenal and Spurs refusing to go away, they are in a scrap for Champions League qualification - never mind the title.
Nine points from the past 18 available is a poor return, but manager Jose Mourinho believes that their recent malaise can be put down to plain bad luck and he refused to lay any blame at the door of his players after a third draw in as many league games.
Mourinho claimed that a combination of injuries and contentious refereeing decisions - particularly three penalty calls in the meetings with Manchester City, Leicester and Southampton - are at the root of his team's recent troubles.
"I feel unlucky, yes," he said after watching his team having to settle for a draw with Southampton.
"But when unlucky in football, you have to chase, which is what we try to do.
"When I speak about three big decisions, three penalties in matches where a penalty and a possible goal makes a huge difference, I want to say unlucky because it's what I feel.
"I could be here now with a 'bias' theory, but I'm not at all because honestly I'm happy with the referees' performances in these matches," the United manager insisted.
"These were just unlucky decisions. You have to be biased against us to say that the penalty against City, against Leicester and tonight were not penalties.
"Three draws are different from three defeats. I know the difference between three draws and three defeats. The difference is just three points, but the difference in terms of the mental state of a defeat and draw makes a difference.
"We need to improve the results, not the 'globality' of the performance. These last two matches at home, if I forget the big mistake of the first Burnley goal, the team was solid, the team played well, the team tried to play all the time… I'm happy with that quality, with that spirit. The boys are trying."
Romelu Lukaku will miss today's game against Everton - it would have been the Belgium striker's first return to Goodison Park since his £75m move to United last summer.
Lukaku is also likely to be ruled out of Friday's FA Cup third-round tie against Derby County after taking a blow to the back of the neck that forced his substitution after just 14 minutes against Southampton.
To add to United's problems, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out for a month with a knee injury and Mourinho is uncertain when he will have midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick fit again.
Eric Bailly remains a longer-term absentee following ankle surgery and fellow defenders Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian are all nursing injuries.
To compound Mourinho's worries, Ashley Young has received a three-match ban for violent conduct over the United defender's elbow on Southampton's Dusan Tadic.
While United had good reason to rue referee Craig Pawson's failure to award them a penalty for handball by Maya Yoshida, they have only themselves to blame for their recent struggles.
Too often the football under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal was leaden and one-paced, and there has been more than a whiff of those traits recently.
Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba flattered to deceive again, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial look short of confidence and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, in his first start since November 5, was bitterly disappointing, wasting four inviting openings with lamentable crosses.
A smattering of boos greeted the final whistle and there is certainly none of the swagger going forward that rivals Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea are showing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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