Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have rescued a point with a last-gasp penalty but Manchester United's poor finishing once again proved costly against Everton, writes Peter Smith…
Misfiring Manchester United's finishing problems just won't go away.
After the euphoria of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's injury-time equaliser from the penalty spot against Everton on Tuesday subsided, the home supporters would have been walking out of Old Trafford just a few minutes later with a familiar feeling of frustration at their forwards' failures in front of goal.
Jose Mourinho publicly criticised his attackers after the 0-0 draw with West Brom on Saturday. If that was a ploy to inspire a response it didn't work. But for Ashley Williams' panicked handball in the 92nd minute, United would have recorded another blank at home.
They had plenty of chances to break the deadlock - United had 18 shots in all. Ibrahimovic, Jesse Lingard and Marcos Rojo wasted openings, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba hit the woodwork, while Joel Robles produced fine stops to deny Daley Blind and another Herrera effort.
Manchester United have hit the woodwork 18 times this season - more than any other Premier League team
After the game, Mourinho suggested video technology would have ruled a marginal offside call against Ibrahimovic as onside and allowed his team to go on to win 2-1. But his side's poor finishing remains his more pressing concern.
Manchester United have taken 499 shots in the Premier League this season. Only Tottenham (500) have taken more. Yet, United have scored fewer goals than any of the other teams in the top seven and their shot conversion rate of 11.88 per cent is only better than Southampton, Middlesbrough and Hull City.
When it comes to clear-cut chances - openings Opta deem an attacker should reasonably score - United have the worst conversion rate in the top flight. Mourinho's men have scored just 20 of their 64 big openings, 31.25 per cent.
At Old Trafford the problem has been more pronounced, with deep defences, inspired opposition goalkeepers and the pressure of expectation on United's forwards seeing the home side score more than once in just five of 16 fixtures.
So who's been culpable?
Ibrahimovic has been widely praised for a productive first season in English football and United would be in major trouble without his 16 league goals. But he has missed 19 clear-cut chances this term, more than any other player in the division.
Clear-cut chance conversion - Premier League 2016/17
|Player||Club||Clear-cut chances missed||Clear-cut chance conversion %|
Paul Pogba (six big chances missed), Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford (both four) have also squandered good openings, while the fact no player other than Ibrahimovic has more than six league goals for United tells its own story of a team lacking clinical finishers.
The problem is clear. The solution less so. Mourinho claimed after the draw with Everton some of his players were lacking confidence. Perhaps his public criticisms have taken their toll?
While there will be funds to spend in the summer to bolster that strikeforce, the Portuguese must find a way to get his men firing again sooner rather than later if they are to realise their ambition of securing Champions League football with a top-four finish or by winning the Europa League.