As the Manchester United fans streamed out of the Turf Moor away end into the miserable Burnley evening they would have had a sense of deja vu.
Not with the rain in Burnley, although that is pretty much guaranteed at this time of year, but in witnessing their team continue to make the same mistakes, again and again.
Before this game, Ralf Rangnick had been publicly imploring his team to learn from the errors of their ways on Friday night. The interim manager was delighted with the execution of the game plan against Middlesbrough, but not at the failure to convert chances. Rangnick doesn’t seem the type to plug the hairdryer in the dressing room, but he must be getting exasperated with this.
For 45 minutes United were outstanding at Turf Moor. They were completely unflustered defensively, dominated midfield and played some very good football going forward.
Rangnick wants his teams to attack vertically and United attacked with pace and panache in the first half. There might be frustration at the disallowed goals, with Raphael Varane’s header ruled out for an offside infringement and Josh Brownhill’s own goal for a foul by Edinson Cavani, but neither decision was particularly egregious.
Instead, United have to look at themselves. Their level of domination served more than one goal. Time and again they forced Burnley towards their own goal, with Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw causing problems down United’s left, in particular.
There looked to be only one winner at the break, but then that was the case at half-time on Friday as well and at half-time at Aston Villa last month. In all three of those games, United have lost momentum and failed to win. When they have granted their response has been feeble.
Burnley’s equalizer was their first shot of the match and it was defended poorly by United, with the out of form Harry Maguire dragged out of position and beaten too easily by Wout Weghorst.
The goal breathed life into Burnley and it took United too long to reclaim control of the game. They needed David de Gea to keep them level and while they finished well, they didn’t create enough chances.
It was all so predictable. Against Boro United never managed to rediscover their performance level after the equaliser. At Villa Park last month they managed to score a second but still couldn’t see the game out. Not taking their chances, conceding soft goals and struggling to recover from setbacks, it was a typical United performance.
It must be baffling to Rangnick. In long spells in the previous couple of games they’ve looked better in attack than at any point in his reign, but they’ve been knocked out of the FA Cup by a team in the Championship and drawn at the bottom side of thePremier League. The improvement has been worth very little but United keep making the same mistakes.
United have now won just 12 of their last 28 games, since the 4-1 win against Newcastle at Old Trafford in September. That was Cristiano Ronaldo’s second debut and briefly, the world seemed United’s oyster.
Their collapse since has been pitiful. A run of seven points from nine before the winter break looked like being a turning point but improved performances are having no impact on results. United need to be winning these games because come March their fixture list is very difficult.
They have games against Southampton, Brighton, Leeds and Watford before then, but on this evidence, there is no guarantee of four wins. United’s habit of shooting themselves in the foot is becoming increasingly harmful.