They entertained against Newcastle last night, but Manchester United’s less-than-dynamic playing style has seen boos ring out across Old Trafford at most home games this season.
As 10 consecutive half-time scores of 0-0, 0-0 and, you guessed it, 0-0 come in, the Theatre Of Dreams has become a waking nightmare for Louis van Gaal and his beleaguered players. Even the boss himself has admitted to being bored out of his skull, saying “There are matches where I’m very bored or angry.”
He’s not the only one. Paul Scholes said after the turgid FA Cup game against Sheffield United that even the players were bored.
But are United really the least exciting side in the Premier League this season?
According to WhoScored, one venue even more thrifty on entertainment value is West Brom’s home, the Hawthorns.
Tony Pulis has moulded Albion into a solid mid-table outfit who don’t look to be in any danger of slipping into the bottom three. However, it’s at the cost of thrills-and-spills football that, say, Everton have displayed one position and one point higher.
The Toffees have scored 36 and conceded 29, against West Brom’s 20 for and 25 conceded.
Dig deeper into the stats and it doesn’t make great reading. The Baggies are averaging 9.8 shots per game, the second fewest in the Premier League, just ahead of Newcastle’s 9.3. The Toon have shipped 38 goals, making them more of an appealing watch for the neutral.
West Brom fans aren’t too pleased with what they’re seeing this term, either. Mark Thomas, editor of Albion Till We Die, had strong words to say when Loaded asked him about whether the Baggies are offering fans enough excitement.
“The answer has to be no,” Thomas fumed. “The first few weeks of the season saw us play some really dour, defensive stuff. Not only was it awful to watch, but we weren’t really picking up many points either.
“It led to the first real signs of discontent amongst the Albion support towards Tony Pulis, and rightly so. It really was that bad.”
Thomas wasn’t wholly disgusted. “The last month or so has seen an improvement,” he said. “Whilst it’s still not always great to watch, there seems to be more intent to win games than there was.”
“We are crying out for a couple of pacey wingers and also perhaps a creative midfielder. The thing we need most though is a quality striker.”
Pulis has brought his tried-and-tested direct style honed at Stoke to the Baggies, and that’s showing in the facts and figures. An average of 72 long balls are launched per game, the joint-second highest in the division behind perennial long-ball merchants Watford.
“Whilst you get the feeling we won’t have to worry about relegation whilst he’s in charge, it would be nice to see a more attacking and pleasing on the eye style of play,” Thomas added.
“Pulis’ transfer dealings and team selections have also raised plenty of questions. Very few of his signings can be considered a success, while marginalising players such as Berahino, McManaman, Gamboa and Pocognoli really doesn’t make sense.”
Of the 20 goals West Brom have scored this season, half have come from a set piece (seven), penalty (two) or own goal (one, thanks to Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta).
Thomas believes West Brom can solve their problems with an injection of pace throughout the team.
“We’re crying out for a couple of pacey wingers and also perhaps a creative midfielder. The thing we need most though is a quality striker,” he said.
“With Saido Berahino not figuring, Rickie Lambert looking as though his best days have gone and our record signing Salomon Rondon struggling for form, we really are a bit lightweight up front.”
The Baggies face Chelsea and Southampton in their next two Premier League games. The West Midlands derby with Aston Villa on January 23 may offer them a chance to pile up the goals for tally and put the boing boing back in Baggies fans’ stride. You’d have thought if they don’t up the shots target then that there really might be no hope. But even Villa woke up against Crystal Palace this week…