LONDON: The most gruelling and intense Premier League season appears to be catching up with Manchester United’s misfiring players.
It may yet cost them a place in next season’s Champions League.
There were worrying signs in United’s third straight 0-0 draw, this time in the fog at Crystal Palace on Wednesday. Bruno Fernandes was sloppy in possession, Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford exchanged angry words in the second half and maybe most alarming of all there was never any sign of the kind of late onslaught United teams down the years have been renowned for.
Perhaps it is no surprise that United, who are now 14 points behind Manchester City in what is becoming a procession to the title, are running out of steam.
Due to their involvement in the Europa League and going deep in both domestic cups, United have played games every midweek in this condensed, pandemic-affected season except for during international breaks. A last-16 double header against AC Milan in the Europa League is coming up over the following two weeks, and before that a Manchester derby on Sunday.
No wonder energy levels seem to be down and there’s no attacking spark in Solskjaer’s side.
“It’s been a long season,” Solskjaer said after United’s sixth 0-0 draw in the league, the most of any team this season.
There’s still tow-and-half months left of it, more than enough time for United to lose their spot in the Premier League’s top four if they’re not careful.
The same applies to third-place Leicester City, who were held 1-1 at relegation-threatened Burnley on Wednesday and might also be feeling the effects of an arduous season that has included a Europa League campaign, too.
United and Leicester have won just five of their last 16 league games combined and they are giving their top-four rivals a big opportunity to reel them in. West Ham United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton are all within eight points and have games in hand, while Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal further back should not be discounted now.
Leicester recovered from conceding a goal in the fourth minute to Matej Vydra, with Kelechi Iheanacho volleying in the equaliser in the 34th.
Aston Villa missed the chance to move to within two points of the top four as they suffered a shock 1-0 loss to bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United, who held on for the final half an hour with 10 men.
Sheffield secured just their fourth league win of the season as David McGoldrick scored the only goal against a Villa side desperately missing the inspiration of injured captain Jack Grealish.
Although the Blades had Phil Jagielka sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity when hacking down Anwar El Ghazi, ninth-placed Villa failed to make their advantage count.
The Blades are still 12 points from safety despite this win but manager Chris Wilder said: “Any result in this division is a huge result for Sheffield United. Obviously it was made a little more difficult going down to 10 men, but we showed good character — as I’ve spoken about all season regarding my team.”