But are they as bad as the results suggest? Are there genuine reasons for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to take some positives from his team’s underlying performances?
We’ve delved into the stats to see where United aren’t doing too badly, and where they should be concerned, compared to the rest of the league’s traditional ‘big six’
According to Understat.com‘s xG table, Manchester United have the best xGA (expected goals against), with 8.10 from 10 games so far. That means they’re allowing the opposition fewer scorable chances than Liverpool (9.52 xGA), Man City (11.26), Leicester (11.74), Chelsea (12.29) and way fewer than Tottenham (14.94) and Arsenal (15.56).
That broadly tallies with their actual goals conceded, 10, with only Liverpool, City, Leicester and Sheffield United having conceded fewer.
But they’ve scored just 13 goals so far – 10 fewer than Liverpool, and 19 fewer than City. They’re also behind Leicester (25), Chelsea (23), Arsenal (15) and Spurs (16). How does that tally with their expected goals?
Well, in terms of xG, only City (32.73), Liverpool (20.65) and Chelsea (20.53) have a higher rate than United (17.44), who are a fair bit ahead of Arsenal (14.18) and dramatically ahead of Leicester (13.31) and Spurs (12.16).
They’re underperforming their xG by a rate of 4.44 – i.e. failing to take their chances – while Leicester, seven points ahead having scored 12 more goals, are dramatically overperforming their xG by a rate of 11.69.
That means the Foxes have been ridiculously clinical so far, but analytics experts will lwarn that rate of finishing is unsustainable while consistently creating chances usually pays dividends.
One area in which Solskjaer’s side aren’t actually doing too badly is their record against better opposition. They’re the only side to have taken a point from Liverpool this season and thrashed Chelsea 4-0 on the opening weekend (and beat them again in the League Cup).
They also drew with Arsenal and beat Leicester – on course to break the top six-party – winning 1-0. In a ‘big six mini-league’, they’d lie second so far, having gone unbeaten and taken five points from three games. That’s three more points than Arsenal and Tottenham, who have both played three equivalent games.
That underlines that they’re not a bad side against teams that attack them but struggle when they can’t counter against smaller sides that sit deep.
The Red Devils have lost to West Ham, Newcastle and Crystal Palace already this season and have recorded draws against Wolves and Southampton – they’ve already dropped seven more points against non-big six opposition than runners-up Liverpool did in the entirety of last season.
Manchester United have the seventh average highest possession in the league (53.5%) – which is behind the rest of the traditional big six and Leicester – City average 61.3%, Liverpool 57.9%, Leicester and Chelsea 55.8%, Arsenal 54.3% and Spurs 53.5%.
They’re also behind the big six in terms of pass completion, with 81.9% – behind City (88.9%), Spurs (84.4%), Chelsea (83.7%), Arsenal (83.2%) and Liverpool (82.6%) – but they’re just ahead of Leicester (81.8%).
United are fifth in the table in terms of shots per game (behind City, Chelsea, Liverpool and surprisingly Aston Villa) but ninth in terms of average shots on target, behind City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham, Arsenal, Leicester and Everton.
Part of United’s problem this season has been a lack of any outstanding individuals in any key areas.
For example, Man City, Tottenham, Leicester, Chelsea, Arsenal and even Norwich have a player that’s scored more than United’s top scorer – Marcus Rashford with five goals, while Liverpool share the load with a front three with 13 goals between them.
It’s the same story in a number of other statistical areas.
Going forward, United only have one player in the top 48 for key passes (the final pass before a team-mate shoots) per game – Ashley Young, ninth – while 31 players average more dribbles per match than their top dribbler, Rashford, and 18 players average more passes per game than United’s top passer, Harry Maguire,
Defensively, 13 players win more aerial duels than any Manchester United player (Maguire), 19 players average more interceptions per game than any United player (Aaron Wan-Bissaka), 25 average more clearances (Maguire) and 43 average more blocks (again, Maguire).
The one notable exception is Wan-Bissaka, who averages more successful tackles per game than any other player in the league.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s game by numbers vs. Norwich:
21 final third passes
4 ball recoveries
2 blocked crosses
What a player! 🕷🕷🕷pic.twitter.com/itXfGg1Joz
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) October 29, 2019