April 23, 2021

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Explaining Manchester United’s number of 0-0 games this season

4 min read

Manchester United’s 0-0 draw with Chelsea on Sunday afternoon was their sixth goalless draw of the season.

Apart from last Thursday night’s dead rubber 0-0 against Real Sociedad — a game you might expect to finish without a goal, given the first leg did the damage — the five stalemates have been against ‘big six’ opponents in the Premier League.

Chelsea (twice), Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal — United have tried and failed to find a way around their top six rivals this season and, if you factor in league defeats to Arsenal and Tottenham as well, their record is poor.

Compare that to last season when United beat Chelsea (twice), Man City, Tottenham and Leicester (twice) and the difference is stark. United’s only league 0-0 was against Wolves in 2019/20, they had three in total.

Given they only had Bruno Fernandes for half that season, had no Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba spent the majority of the campaign on the sideline and you’d be forgiven for making little sense of these statistics.

So why are 0-0 draws all too common this season for United and others?

No supporters

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stated his belief that United’s 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford in October would have been very different with a raucous home crowd packed in.

The Norwegian was heavily criticised for his negative tactics in that stalemate with Frank Lampard’s side, but insisted the United fans could have made a vital difference.

He said: “I’m sure if that Stretford End is full, it’s going to be a magic night, as so many times in this stadium as they suck that ball into the goal. We just missed that edge.

“I have to say I miss the fans so much and the passion that they would give the players.”

There is no doubt the presence of supporters would change these games. Fans don’t allow players to dither on the ball and show anything less than 100 per cent. They want to see entertainment and goalmouth action, of which there was little in either United-Chelsea game this season.

Teams are showing too much caution in the supporter-free covid-19 era. The atmosphere and the feeling of such big games can surely change for the better when fans can return.

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Manchester United were denied a penalty in controversial fashion against Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players were furious that Callum Hudson-Odoi wasn’t penalised for a handball, as they had to settle for a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge. The point leaves United 12 points behind leaders Man City, with Crystal Palace the next opponents.

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Lessons from previous big games

One of the contributing factors to United’s nervy home performances against Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City at Old Trafford earlier in the campaign was the 6-1 drubbing they received from Tottenham in September.

A first half red card and a defensive catastrophe left United red-faced against Jose Mourinho’s side, with even Harry Maguire admitting it was an “embarrassing” performance.

And so United played with the handbrake on in the big games thereafter, frightened to make another mistake that might cost them.

United aren’t the only team to become more cautious this season in the wake of frenzied encounters earlier this season. Liverpool suffered a chastening 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa on the same weekend as United’s Tottenham hammering and then became more cagey under Jurgen Klopp.



Manchester United’s manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Tottenham Hotspur’s Jose Mourinho

And go back a few years and games between the big sides were often high-scoring, crazy affairs, averaging 3.03 goals per game in the 2017/18 and 2019/20 campaigns. That average is now down to around 2.

Teams have learned to tighten up defensively and play risk-averse football in these contests, which is a nightmare for the Sky Sports hype machine.

No sense of occasion

The Chelsea fans and stands have a unique sound, smell and feel when they are packed full of punters.

The same, of course, can be said of Old Trafford, where each matchday is different depending on the opponents, and the steady flow of arriving supporters builds anticipation towards kick off.

But if you approach a stadium in this covid era, there is none of that. It’s all very sanitised, with innumerable temperature checks, body scans and bag searches — that the playing and coaching staff aren’t immune to.

You could forgive the players for feeling a little too relaxed, then, even before these big games and thus they play out in dour fashion.

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