Manchester United won 4-1 against Newcastle United on Saturday afternoon with a blistering performance from the convalescent Paul Pogba. Normality for now seems to be restored. The black clouds are not above Old Trafford anymore.
However, have they ever been? Were Manchester United that bad recently when everyone talked about Jose Mourinho’s negativity and poor team performances? The answer would be both yes and no. Comparing to the 2016-17 season, there would be no reason to think Manchester United are not doing well. After finishing sixth in the league, being this close to the top spot in 2017-18 is very good.
Yet, without the previous season in our hindsight, things were not great. Huddersfield won against the Reds, a 0-0 draw against Liverpool was not a shiny performance. Man United had only one Premier League win between October and November international breaks. Nothing is black and white. In this case it is grey.
Manchester United And Lots Of (Expected) Goals
But what are the numbers telling us that we did not know? We knew Manchester United are scoring more and conceding less goals this season than last term. Yet, it is well worth pointing out Manchester United have scoring 27 goals this season, half of what they scored for the whole last season. Yet, we are not even close to the half of the current season, with seven more rounds to be played until then.
This means Man United’s average goals per game grew from a mere 1.42 to 2.25. That is a huge difference and it is not a coincidence. The Reds are better at converting chances into goals, as their expected goals (xG) per game were last season bigger than actual goals per game – 1.54 to the mentioned 1.42. This also grew this term, to a 2.04 expected goals per match.
You would notice that 2.04 is 0.21 less than actual goals per game scored by Manchester United. This means Mourinho’s players are better at taking chances. And while 0.21 per game might not seem like a lot, it actually is – if United were to outscore their expected goals over a whole season in the same rhythm, they would score eight goals more than expected (last season they scored 4.66 goals LESS than expected).
And all of this might be a bit complicated right now. Yet, the fact is United are better at taking chances than last season, but also at defending as a unit. Man United had the second best defence in 2016-17 (29 goals conceded, 0.76 per game). This term, David De Gea only conceded six goals (best in the league, 0.5 goals conceded per game). This is due to De Gea saving some incredible shots – as we have already seen many times – but also due to better defensive shape of the team.
Nemanja Matic brought more solidity and balance, and the centre-backs have less work to do. However, in long-term, this might change a little bit. In 2016-17, United conceded less shots – 9.5 compared to this season’s 10.8 – and expected goals against are higher now than last season. Man United were, based on the quality of the chances and shots made by opposition, expected to concede 12.51 goals (roughly a goal per game), while in 2016-17 that number was 0.83.
Our conclusion could be that Man United have considerably improved attacking-wise and they should continue scoring plenty of goals. They are shooting less often than during first Mourinho’s season, but from better positions. However, we could also conclude that Manchester United’s fine defensive record is better than expected. Mourinho should try and prevent bigger problems, as the underlying statistics are showing they could happen.
This is only the beginning of talking about Manchester United numbers. In following days we will be looking into some other important stats.