Against Partizan Belgrade, Manchester United did pick up a 3-0 win. But one thing wasn’t positive in the game. While Juan Mata did look good, there was a time when two of the other attacking midfielders in Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira were on the pitch.
Both of them didn’t create anything of note. It was a stark reminder of the club’s struggles in that part of the pitch. The fact that both Lingard and Pereira have just one assist between them this season also serves as testimony to the problems that lie at Old Trafford.
Mata is now 31 and is past his prime. He isn’t getting any younger. But the win over Partizan showed that maybe, he is United’s best-attacking midfielder currently.
United were linked with Paulo Dybala and Bruno Fernandes this past summer. And have been linked with James Maddison over the last few weeks. It probably just indicates that United do feel the need for an attacking midfield player.
Having said that, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have also been linked with strikers in Moussa Dembele and Mario Mandzukic. That is obvious, considering how United failed to sign a replacement for Romelu Lukaku, who joined Inter this past summer for a big-money move.
But United have bigger problems than just scoring goals. Their main problem lies in creating them, especially without Paul Pogba.
United are currently 13th in the league table for goals scored, having scored only 13 times this season. But there’s a gulf between Pogba and the other attacking players when it comes to how many key passes per game they have played.
Pogba has played as many as 2.6 key passes per game. While Andreas Pereira has played only 1.4, the same as Luke Shaw. Jesse Lingard has played 0.9 of them per game. In that sense, not having a creative midfielder makes loads of difference to United.
That is exactly why having Pogba in the side increases the side’s overall production of goals. In the games that Pogba has played in the Premier League, United have scored eight times in five games. When he hasn’t been there, United have scored only five in just as many games.
These numbers say a lot about a lack of creativity in the side. United look static without an attacking midfielder. Fred and Scott McTominay, the two midfielders, have played 0.9 and 0.6 key passes per game respectively.
In games like Newcastle United and West Ham, United looked static and restricted. They could pick out passes that a proper attacking midfielder can.
While the need for a striker has been felt too, as United look short of a man who they can aim for in attack. But even when they had someone like Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial up front, they can’t be creative enough to link them up in the play.
A striker could well be an option in the summer, especially if Mandzukic arrives for cheap. However, bringing in a striker doesn’t necessarily mean goals. If no one can create goals, there is little chance players can score them.