Talking Numbers: A Deeper Look Into Manchester United’s Heavy Loss Against Palace

Manchester United did not start the season the way they wanted. Last year, the season opener brought a 4-0 beating of Chelsea, but this time it was Crystal Palace who comfortably won 3-1 at Old Trafford. After the game there was talk that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made several changes to his starting XI, potentially in his quest to show the board that this team needs reinforcements.

And whilst that is true and Man United need better players, it is also true that Manchester United should also be winning matches like these. Solskjaer’s team did not lose against Palace because they did not sign many new players. They lost a match this type of squad should be winning either way.

After the main talking points from last night, let’s now check a little deeper into stats and underlying metrics.

What Are Expected Goals Telling Us?

Manchester United lost 3-1, but in terms of expected goals, that was a bit closer call. According to Understat, Palace got their chances to be worth 1.91 xG, whilst United stood at just 1.10 xG – enough for Palace still to win the game either way. The partial reason is that Palace also had a penalty in this match, but it is very much true that despite their 75 per cent ball possession, United only managed to get two decent chances worth 0.28 xG each. One of those two was Donny van de Beek’s debut goal, the other was Mason Greenwood’s close range miss at the hour mark.

Fernandes Keeps Doing The Most In Attack

And whilst Man United did not create some big chances, nor were they coming in abundance, it was still the case that Bruno Fernandes was by far the most trying to be proactive. His passing was once again really risky, trying to get high rewards for his attempts and the numbers back that up.  Fernandes completed 81 passes, with only Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof getting around the same number (82 and 80 respectively), but the proportion of types of passes shows a big story here.

Of his 109 attempted passes, the Portuguese had 42 of them being considered long ones, completing ‘just’ 62 per cent of them. But lower completion rate is normal, considering his attempting such passes much further up the pitch, trying to cut through the lines Palace’s defence. Also, Fernandes made 76 carries, by far the most of any attackng player on the pitch, further showcasing that everything was being channeled through him.

No Pressure From Up Front

Another important part of this match was a lack of a cohesive pressing from Manchester United. Yes, the team had 75 per cent of ball possession, but exactly because they were playing against a deeply set defence, it was necessary for this team to try and catch Palace when they are not so organised and the easiest way to do that is immediately after Palace lose possession closer to their goal. And for that, you need pressing.

The front three of Martial, Rashford and James made just 26 pressures, with only 14 of them coming in the final third of the pitch.

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