Manchester United have conceded in nine consecutive Premier League games at Old Trafford, their worst such run since a 10-game streak without a home clean sheet since the 1970s.
United have only kept one clean sheet in all competitions so far this season, with Everton the latest side to breach the Red Devils’ backline in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Conceding doesn’t always have an adverse impact on the final result – United have still won five games so far this season in which they have failed to keep a clean sheet – but it does make winning games that much harder because there is vastly more pressure to score goals.
That was precisely the case against Everton, who defended resolutely throughout and limited United’s abilities to create much in the way of clear chances. It also puts more pressure on being efficient with chances, which is why a tame late shot from Jadon Sancho that could have restored the lead and secure a win was especially frustrating and disappointing.
But United’s inability to keep clean sheet doesn’t solely lie at the back. The defence is…good.
Goalkeeper David de Gea is getting back to something like his former best, while Raphael Varane has added plenty of leadership, experience and quality. Harry Maguire’s injury is less harshly felt because Victor Lindelof has started the season in form, Luke Shaw has been consistently good for some time now, while everyone regularly remarks about Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s defensive attributes.
The problem was glaringly obvious when Everton scored their equaliser: United don’t have a midfield that can sufficiently protect the defenders behind them. Once a defence is left exposed like that, there is often fairly little those individuals can do.
Everton’s Demarai Gray managed to win 50/50 challenges against Fred twice in quick succession to beat the midfield and run at the United back four. Once he came under pressure from defenders, he laid the ball off to Abdoulaye Doucoure, who in turn fed Andros Townsend to score.
United’s midfield has been a source of concern for some time. It is not necessarily because of the quality of players involved – no one can deny that Paul Pogba is one of the most technically gifted players in the world – but the unit as a whole lacks shape, structure and positional discipline.
Priority in the summer transfer window just gone, when resources were limited and budgets stretched, was about finally landing Jadon Sancho, buying a centre-back and taking the impossible to turn down opportunity to re-sign Cristiano Ronaldo. A new midfielder to plug the gaping hole in the centre of the pitch, which directly affects United’s leakiness, had to wait.
There seems little United can do about it for now. Fred should be that player but isn’t – he more than proved that in the decisive moment against Everton when he had two bites at the cherry.
But conceding goals is going to cost United over and over until it is fixed.