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Are Manchester United Contenders For The Top 4 Again?

Man United’s recent struggles have been well documented and analysed in recent times, especially under Ten Haag.

Expectations may have been high amongst United fans considering their incomings in the summer transfer window, with the club welcoming the likes of Rasmus Hojlund, Mason Mount, Andra Onana and Sofyan Amrabat.

Paired with the likes of Varane, Martinez, Rashford, Casemiro and Garnacho who were already at the club, United fans were expected a season full of hope, and a potential title challenge.

That, however, has not come to fruition, with United falling behind in sixth place, six points behind Tottenham Hotspur who occupy fourth.

It has been a difficult season so far, to say the least, including some embarrassing results, such as the 3-0 loss at home to Bournemouth, the 1-0 loss at home to Crystal Palace, and the 3-0 hammering they took at home when playing rivals Man City.

However, United may have raised those expectations again ever so slightly after some of their recent performances. They dramatically beat Aston Villa at Old Trafford 3-2, before scoring four goals in their 4-3 win over Wolves, beating West Ham 3-0 at home, and then completing their domestic double over Aston Villa, securing a 2-1 win at Villa Park.

Are United within a shout of a spot in the top four? Or will their poor form at the start of the season haunt them as the season draws to a close?

Trouble Scoring Goals

Every time in the league knows they need to be prolific if they have any chance of rising up the table, after all, goals win games.

For United, this has been, mostly, their main issue. Looking at the six other teams in the top seven, Aston Villa are the lowest scorers, having found the back of the net 50 times.

United, on the other hand, have, amazingly, only managed 33 goals in their 24 games so far this season.

In fact, no other side in the top half of the table has scored fewer goals than Man United, with the next closest team, West Ham, scoring 36.

Even looking at the league as a whole, only six teams have scored less than Man United, those being Sheffield United, Burnley, Everton, Nottingham Forest, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth.

Despite signing Rasmus Hojlund for a reported £72 million, Luton Town, whose squad cost them, reportedly, around £20 million, have scored the same amount of league goals as them, whilst sitting in 17th place.

A team pushing for a spot in the top half of the table, let alone the top four, should be more than capable of scoring more than 33 goals at this point in the season.

United have scored three goals in one game on only five occasions this season, at home against Nottingham Forest in their third game, and against Aston Villa and West Ham, whilst almost managing at least three away against Everton and Wolves.

Compared to the other teams in the top four, Liverpool have managed to score three or more on 11 occasions, as have Man City, Arsenal on 8 occasions, and Spurs on 5.

Even looking at Man United’s top scorers in the league shows their problems in front of goal. Their top scorer, with just 6 so far this season, is defensive midfielder Scott McTominay.

Despite Rashford scoring 17 goals in the Premier League last season, he only has five to his name so far, as does Garnacho. £72 million man Hojlund has also managed just five goals this season, four of which have come in his last four games.

Man United’s problems in front of goal are clear to see. Their forwards have not been hitting the net consistently this season, with the exception of Hojlund in his recent games, and this has hampered United’s chances of climbing the table.

Lack Of Creativity

Whilst United have not been overly prolific in front of goal, that may be partially down to their lack of creativity going forward.

Bruno Fernandes, obviously, leads the way on Man United’s assist list, registering five so far this season, but beyond that, no other player has registered more than two in the league so far.

Despite the likes of Mason Mount, Rashford, Martial, Garnacho, Hojlund, Eriksen, Antony, Pellistri, Sancho and Amrabat all featuring for the club at some point, it is perplexing as to how any of these players have not assisted more than two of United’s 33 goals this season.

Rashford, in particular, has come under a lot of scrutiny this season with his performances in front of goal, and there have been several times where he has taken a shot from a difficult angle or tried to take his man on, rather than playing the easy ball and grabbing himself an assist in the process.

Every attacking player wants to get on the scoresheet, but the team comes first, and that is something Rashford has struggled with this season.

But, his partnership with Hojlund has been developing in recent weeks, and things are, seemingly, starting to click.

Even when United are playing at home, they are struggling to create. In their 3-0 win against West Ham the other week, United managed 12 shots, with just five of those being on target.

Against Wolves the week before, United managed 21 shots, with just eight of those being on target. Even in their 2-2 draw against Spurs at home, United only managed eight shots, with just two on target, both resulting in goals.

If United could work their space a bit better when going forward, and find that killer final ball, their fortunes could turn around.

Their attacking options are frightening, and any club should fear coming up against them, but at the moment, they are not working together to score goals and win games.

Even with their struggles in front of goal, and their lack of creativity, United find themselves just outside of the top four, and they still have a good chance of achieving a Champions League spot.

Once things start to click when going forward, they could become a force to be reckoned with. Their attacking options have pace and skill in abundance, and they could easily tear teams apart.

Even United’s defensive frailties seem to have ended momentarily. The return of Varane and Martinez has brought about more stability to United’s back line, and Onana seems to have cut out the majority of his mistakes.

Even Harry Maguire is becoming more dependable when relied upon. The defence is looking more confident, and the midfield is already so strong with McTominay, Casemiro and Fernandes. United just need their attacking options to gel together, before they can dream of pushing further up the league again.

In terms of a top four spot this season, it may come a bit too soon for them. Their poor start will come back to haunt them, and they should just miss out, whether that be to Spurs or Villa, but next season, with a few more additions, they could be contenders once again.

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