It is 437 minutes since Manchester United scored from open play. They have failed to find the net in four of their past eight matches and just hitting the target has proved difficult.
They mustered one shot on target in Sunday’s 4-0 surrender at Everton and had to wait until the 86th minute for that. Against Barcelona at Old Trafford, they did not trouble Marc-Andre ter Stegen even once and, at home to West Ham United three days later, there was only a solitary attempt on goal beyond Paul Pogba’s decisive two penalties.
But this is not a new problem. United have been toothless in front of goal since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013, a lack of cutting edge compounded by a creative vacuum in the final third of the pitch that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must at least begin to address this summer if next season is not to turn into another unsightly slog.
The bare statistics tell their own story. United have scored 169 fewer goals than Manchester City, tonight’s visitors to Old Trafford, over the past six Premier League campaigns, a whopping 28 goals fewer per season on average, but they have been comfortably outscored by all of their other top six rivals in that time, too. Whereas City have plundered 99 goals in all competitions at home this season, the champions face a team who have barely a third of that to their name at Old Trafford over the past nine months.
Dig a little deeper and the fault lines are clear. Since their last title success in 2013, there have been only five occasions on which a United player has claimed seven assists or more in a league season: Wayne Rooney in 2013/14, Angel Di Maria the following year, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba last term and Pogba again this season. Total assists by those four players? 46.
At City, there have been 22 incidences of players claiming seven or more assists in a league campaign over those six years, a spread of 208 assists involving 11 players. Fifteen players have managed at least seven league assists each on 20 occasions at Liverpool, a total of 165 assists.
The creative load is being shared to dizzying effect at those clubs. Cut the supply route off from one or two players at United, Pogba especially, and they start to run out of ideas.
It only underlines Solskjaer’s need for more ingenuity through the middle of the pitch – the sort offered by David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne at City or Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, for example – and quality delivery or incision from out wide, which the likes of Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, not to mention the rampaging full-backs Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, provide at Liverpool. United have been missing a totemic No 10 and a pedigree right-winger and right-back for years.
It is a similar picture in terms of goals. United do not create enough chances but, even when they do, they are not ruthless enough.
Although there have been 15 occasions during this six-year time frame when a United player has scored seven or more league goals in a season, it has contributed a total of just 158 goals. Excluding penalties, no one has managed more than the 16 Lukaku scored last term, with others failing or struggling to scrape into double figures. Arsenal have also had 15 incidences of a player scoring at least seven but with a return of 193.
City have had 22 cases of players scoring at least seven league goals, from which they have plundered 279 goals. There have been 19 occasions of players scoring at least seven at Liverpool (total 255 goals) and 18 at Spurs, for a similarly impressive return of 245 goals.
Seven of Pogba’s 13 league goals have come from the penalty spot and, beyond the Frenchman, there is a chronic shortage of goals from midfield and other areas, which is compounded by the attackers’ troubles.
Jesse Lingard has not scored in the league since Dec 22, Anthony Martial just twice since then. Marcus Rashford has one league goal since Feb 3, Lukaku four since Jan 2, risible tallies for the second half of the season and a significant factor in their dire run of six defeats from eight games.
City’s Raheem Sterling has more goals (eight) than that quartet combined in his past 11 league outings.
There are not enough goals in this United team, and Solskjaer must find a solution.