Last season Manchester United finished second in the Premier League, 12 points adrift of champions Manchester City. They were top of the league in January but eventually fell short of the title. One of the main reasons for their failure was their record against the traditional 'Big Six'.
You win titles only if you beat the big teams. Of late, Manchester United haven't been able to do that. Last season they won just two games out of a possible 10 against the 'Big Six'. There were five draws and three losses in that. No team can challenge for the league with a record like this against your direct rivals.
Manchester United's record against the 'Big Six' in the 2020/21 season
Manchester United had a very good record against the 'Big Six' in the 2019/20 season, only behind champions Liverpool. But they weren't able to replicate that form the following season. They only got 11 points against these teams in the 2020/21 season compared to 17 in the previous season.
There were a lot of drab 0-0 draws which signifies the fact that they haven't been able to score freely against the top sides.
This problem originated from the lack of defensive stability. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn't trust his defense, especially the centre-back partnership of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.
The problem was evident in their 6-1 humiliation by Tottenham. The loss convinced Solskjaer that his defense cannot be trusted against good attacking sides.
This has forced Solskjaer to use two defensive midfielders in Fred and Scott McTominay to shield the defense. Both Fred and McTominay have limited attacking capabilities. This in turn has limited United's threat going forward with just four attacking-minded players in the team.
United also employed a conservative approach in these games with the priority being not to concede. This has resulted in United scoring just eight goals against these teams in the entire season.
Other teams have also figured out that United are devastating on the counter-attack. They had started to offer United more of the ball, evident from the fact that they had more than 50% of the ball in six such games in the 2020/21 season compared to just three in the 2019/20 season out of a possible 10.
Failure in Europe
Manchester United have also had a difficult season in Europe too, losing in the Europa League final to Villareal. Their only decent wins came against AC Milan and AS Roma with a superior squad than both of them.
They crashed out of the Champions League in the group stages itself, highlighting their inexperience in big games.
Cristiano Ronaldo could be a game-changer for Manchester United
But with Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, United would like to bank on him in the big games. With his wealth of experience, he could be the difference in these big games. United will hope that he delivers and converts those draws into wins and if he does that United have a great chance of winning the league.
Also with Raphael Varane at the back, United have become much more solid defensively.
United certainly have a squad capable of winning the league. But they need to start winning the big matches to have a chance.