The strangest thing during the final 10 minutes at Old Trafford on Wednesday night was not the 2-0 scoreline in Burnley’s favour, Manchester United’s inability to fashion chances or even the fact that the majority of seats had been vacated.
Instead, it was the general acceptance that such a result and performance from this Premier League fallen giant was, in fact, not surprising at all.
Contrary to popular belief, United didn’t actually play badly. They were easily the better side over the course of the game, dominated possession with 73 per cent of it and had 24 shots to Burnley’s five.
Both Juan Mata and Anthony Martial were guilty of squandering glorious chances in the first half and the visitors punished them for it, scoring from their only two efforts on target.
There is much to admire about the efficiency Sean Dyche’s side exhibited but a familiar story of United’s soft centre, inexperience and general weakness was the one that resurfaced.
Chants in protest of the Glazer family’s ownership and CEO Ed Woodward echoed around Old Trafford in the second half but there was no animosity towards the players for one reason and one reason only – they’re just not good enough.
The intensity and desire was there to see but the players were found wanting in terms of quality. The team needs a little bit of stardust and in its absence, it’s difficult to single out the manager as well.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is largely being absolved of blame despite losing more Premier League matches (12) than he’s won (11) since being appointed permanent manager back in March last year.
The Norwegian is desperate to a rebuild and while he’s been able to ship out dead weight, the numbers drafted in aren’t nearly enough.
And that’s where United’s structure fails them most. While clubs on lower budgets go from strength to strength owing to their efficient and qualified sporting directors, Woodward and his team have regularly faltered.
Even when they brought in three excellent signings over the summer, each one was painfully dragged out, leaving them no time to work on other deals, one of them being Bruno Fernandes.
With the midfielder available again in the January transfer window, United have spent the majority of it trying to get the deal over the line. But with only days remaining, the club remain locked in a stand-off with Sporting CP.
A difference in transfer fee valuation is reportedly the where negotiations have stalled but given recent results and lack of options in midfield, haggling over £10 million or so is a luxury United cannot afford.
On one hand, it’s something of a relief that United have finally checked themselves and are determined to stop overpaying for players. Desperate times call for desperate measures but the more you think about it, the more practical it seems, rather than desperate, to give in to Sporting’s demands.
An extra £10 million or so is a drop in the ocean compared to what United would forego should they miss out on Champions League football for a second straight season. In terms of recruitment as well, their absence in Europe’s elite competition could be a stumbling block in their efforts to sign players over the summer.
Getting a signing like Bruno over the line now could make all the difference considering how close the battle for fourth place in the Premier League is this season.
In an ideal world, United would not be held at ransom but these are hardly ideal times and simple logic must prevail.
With top-scorer Marcus Rashford possibly out for the season, United are already ruing their failure to snap up Erling Haaland from RB Salzburg this month. The Norwegian striker was one of Solskjaer’s top targets but Borussia Dortmund landed him instead and he’s gone on to score five goals for them already in just 59 minutes over two appearances.
The Red Devils simply can’t afford to miss out on more deals. Solskjaer has alluded to a couple of signings in the works and the club must loosen the purse strings to deliver the players needed to push the team through to the summer.
Now is not the time to dig your heels in. Ideals must be suspended and most importantly, players must be signed.
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