Manchester United

Sluggish Manchester United lack the courage needed in a title race

Max Cooper
Pogba couldn't inspire Manchester United to victory in North London
Pogba couldn't inspire Manchester United to victory in North London / IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

The final week of January 2021 will be remembered as the seven days in which Manchester United reverted to type and fell behind in a title race which, realistically, they shouldn't have been part of from the start.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have stumbled to the top of the table in recent weeks, profiting from Manchester City's poor start to the season, Liverpool's dreadful form over Christmas, and Tottenham Hotspur's inability to score more than one goal a game.

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The Red Devils' very own impressive winning streak saw them leading the chasing pack heading into their clash with Sheffield United on January 27. What could go wrong? Well, Man Utd turned in one of their worst displays of the season, losing 2-1 to the bottom of the table side, and simultaneously losing ground on Man City.

That disastrous defeat allowed the Citizens to regain top spot, and judging by the form that they're in, their competitors can afford to make very few slip ups throughout the campaign if they wish to catch them.

Pep Guardiola piled the pressure on his neighbours on Saturday afternoon too, doing exactly what Solskjaer failed to do - beat Sheffield United. It wasn't easy for Man City, but they sneaked to a 1-0 victory, throwing the ball back into Man Utd's court in this topsy-turvy title race.

The challengers had to show their worth against Arsenal on Saturday, and all eyes were on this high profile clash, to see if they could bounce back from their major midweek setback.

In short, they didn't really show signs of a title-challenging outfit. The Red Devils lacked quality, composure and the cutting edge needed to get over the line in these tight encounters. They created and squandered several chances in either half, but it's hard to say they truly deserved the three points when considering how starved of genuine quality us onlookers were left.

Both sides performed well below par in the first half, misplacing passes time and time again, and rarely finding the right ball in the final third. It was a frustrating watch. Man Utd in particular laboured in possession, and a sluggishness ran through the team.

There was no great urgency to their play - and for a team hoping to prove their title credentials, that is a trait which cannot be lacking. Talisman Bruno Fernandes was not at his best, and he grew frustrated at the absence of any leadership or ingenuity around him.

It is in these big games when we see just how reliant his teammates are on the Portuguese star, and how unrealistic it is to expect him to carry a team through every single game.

No matter how average the performance was though, Man Utd did have the chances to win the match. Edinson Cavani missed two brilliant opportunities in the second half - although the latter was a tough, acrobatic effort.

Marcus Rashford summed up his indecisive and hesitant display in the first period, finding himself with the ball at his feet six yards from the net. He dallied, twisted one way, then the other until the chance had truly passed him by, and when he found a teammate, it was too late.

Overall, not good enough. A lack of quality, a lack of killer instinct, and a lack of desire to win. The story of Man Utd's afternoon.

They couldn't be separated in the end
They couldn't be separated in the end / Pool/Getty Images

All this, against an Arsenal team sitting six places below Man Utd in the table. Perhaps both sides will be happy with the point, all things considered, but one team should definitely be more pleased than the other.

For the Red Devils, it wasn't a terrible 90 minutes of football - but it wasn't a performance of champions. Not by a long distance.