April 23, 2021

Man Utd

News

The numbers that prove Manchester United were fluking title charge

3 min read

In mid-January, Manchester United fans could have been forgiven for casting their eyes forward to this weekend’s big derby with rivals City and pinpointing it as a match that might have a presiding impact on which side of Manchester the Premier League title ends up.

Fast forward eight weeks though and the landscape has completely changed. Since United topped the table on the 12th of January, they’ve lost just one league match. However, they managed just three wins, with too many draws proving the biggest tax on their points return.

City on the other hand continue to rack up the victories and they know that another this weekend would take them five wins away from confirming themselves as champions again.

An inquiry into this drop in form has already started at Old Trafford after the 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace on Wednesday night raised serious questions about how secure a position within the top four is with the likes of Everton, West Ham and Chelsea all boasting good form within the chasing pack.

Fatigue has been touted as one of the big reasons for United’s recent issues, with key stars like Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes all amassing 40+ appearances so far. This opens the door for some criticism of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer given his decision to sometimes play already overworked players in dead rubber matches, such as Fernandes in the second leg Europe League tie vs Real Sociedad.

Yet a lot of the fatigue ripping through the United squad comes not through the actions of Solskjaer, but instead as a result of a gruelling domestic schedule which has been amplified by the demands of a European one too.

However, parking all this to one side, there’s evidence to suggest that United’s recent results might not be the surprise that many currently consider them to be. In fact, even when they sat top of the Premier League table, it could be argued that what was to come was written on the wall via their underlying performances numbers.



Manchester United's ranking in some key areas when they sat top of the table
Manchester United’s ranking in some key areas when they sat top of the table

As highlighted above, at the time, in terms of goal scored, United ranked second in the league with a total of 34. However, based on non-penalty Expected Goals (xG) which is a statistical measure of the quality of chances created, United ranked down in seventh with a total of 24.96.

A reason for their overperformance from their NPxG and actual goals scored relates in some ways to the quality of attackers they have within the ranks, with players capable of scoring from low quality and difficult chances on a more regular basis. However, they also infamously benefited from a high amount of penalty kicks, something that has inevitably dried up across recent fixtures.

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At the other end of the pitch, they’d conceded 24 goals which was the league’s 12th highest at the time. Their non-penalty xG against numbers were better that that at 18.9 which ranked a more respectable seventh, yet, they still were not the sort of underlying performance numbers for a side you’d expect to be sitting at the top of the table.

All of the above isn’t to say that United haven’t been worthy of some of the standout displays they’ve produced this season. But it does highlight that they probably weren’t the top, title competing side that their league standing suggested.

No matter what happens in this weekend’s derby clash, recent weeks have brought United back down to earth and reminded Solskjaer that there’s still plenty of work to do if he wants to build a team capable of competing with City for more than just three points twice a season.

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