Manchester United’s shooting against Aston Villa highlighted attacking problem

Manchester United progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup after winning 1-0 against Steven Gerrard‘s Aston Villa, but the victory was anything but convincing.

The visitors had two goals disallowed at Old Trafford, and while the second decision was a fairly routine offside call, the first VAR check was a lengthy one, and while it did ultimately come to the correct decision, many would question if three minutes and 45 seconds worth of checking warrants a ‘clear and obvious error by the on-field referee.

Despite that, it was actually an improved performance from United’s last outing, where they lost 1-0 to Wolves in the Premier League.

“I think we showed a reaction after the Wolves game, that is what everyone expected from us.” Ralf Rangnick told the BBC after the game. “We knew it would be very difficult against Villa. In the first half, I thought we did well.

“In the second half, we were on the counter-attack and we could have made more of those situations. We took the wrong decisions at times but when we changed to a diamond in midfield we had more control.”

It wasn’t just on the counter-attack where United players made poor decisions. It was a frequent occurrence when the Red Devils entered Villa’s final third.

With 19 shots registered on the night, you’d assume that the hosts generated some good shooting opportunities, but, in fact, that wasn’t actually the case.

With 12 of those 19 shots coming from outside of the box, United struggled to get into dangerous positions to test Emiliano Martínez. Other than Luke Shaw‘s long-range effort, which forced the Argentinian goalkeeper to tip the ball over the top of the crossbar, it was catching practise for the visiting number one.

United had zero shots from inside the six-yard box, as per WhoScored, and over the course of the league season, just five per cent of the Reds’ shots come inside this zone. That’s just one per cent higher than the league’s lowest in Brighton at four per cent.

Players such as Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, and Marcus Rashford all like to attempt shots from distance where better options could be available. This was especially apparent in United’s FA Cup tie on Monday evening where the trio racked up 12 shots between them.

Rashford’s shot from distance after six minutes was the first example of the trigger happy hosts, then after United’s no.10 had his attempt blocked, Scott McTominay drilled one into Martinez’s hands on the rebound – Rashford’s initial shot generated a measly 0.02 xG, while the Scotsman’s effort was a slightly better 0.07 xG.

Minutes later, an ambitious first-time shot from Fernandes on the left side of the box was easily dealt with by the Villa defenders, despite the box being flooded with United men. Taking a touch and supplying a measured ball into the box could’ve given United a better chance of scoring.

Despite this, the playmaker did actually give the correct pass on 27 minutes, which gave the Reds one of their best chances of the night. Edinson Cavani was unlucky to see his low driven shot made into a slightly easier save for the Villa goalkeeper after taking a slight deflection off of Tyrone Mings.

Although, Bruno could’ve felt obliged to shoot as he was nearing the penalty area but he waited and saw the chance to slide Cavani into a better goalscoring opportunity after the forward separated himself from Mings well.

However, it’s a trend for United to instead look for the wonder goal, Greenwood tried it more times than anyone else against the Villians and didn’t really come close to scoring. It might boil down to frustration, last week the youngster was free inside the area but Cavani chose to shoot from range instead of passing. Sometimes, it looks like these Manchester United forward players are sworn enemies.

Here are three examples from the game against Aston Villa, where an overall optimistic shot was chosen over developing the move and potentially creating a better chance.

Firstly, Rashford does well to drive inside, but with Greenwood free on the right, a simple pass to the 20-year-old could’ve allowed United to have three players attack the box for an inswinging cross. Instead, United’s no.10 unleashes a shot that is easily blocked. Scott McTominay then gets a second chance to give Greenwood the ball, but he also shoots straight at the goalkeeper.

Next, we see Greenwood given the ball after a set-piece is cleared. United have many players forward and Greenwood is able to bypass the first defender due to a slip. However, then instead of looking to pass the ball onto Shaw or Cavani, who are both on the underloaded left side, he looks to shoot and it’s a weak effort.

Again, here is United’s no.11 running into space in transition. He begins to cut inside and that brings Villa’s full-back inside with him. Diogo Dalot does extremely well to offer an overlapping run for the 20-year-old and he would be free to receive a reverse pass from Greenwood. He would then be in a dangerous position to find a cross on the right. Instead, yet another poor shooting choice was the decision made by the forward.

This is also what will occur when so many of your attacking players are ones that strictly look to score goals. Greenwood, Rashford and Cavani’s first instincts are to shoot, meanwhile, Fernandes is also trigger happy for a creator.

Even then, we’ve seen Jadon Sancho make a few questionable decisions in these areas, most recently when he decided to shoot against Wolves, rather than setting up Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was ultimately an improved showing from United, but their frailties in different defensive situations were still apparent, as analysed through this article from UtdArena. And as explained above, there are still improvements that need to be made in the attacking third too.

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