Start of season woes and Bolton round up

Michael Owen

The trauma of being three points off the leader in the race for the Premier League is just too much for some Reds, especially given the below par performance of the side away at Bolton today. United looked nervy at the back, with Elmander and Davies causing problems for both Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans – a far cry from the 4-0 drumming United handed out last season. Many people may point to Evans as the guilty party, however if Patrice Evra stays on the post – he clears it. The second was a quick counter attack from Bolton, a far cry from their usual direct outlet, and Fletcher was powerless to stop the ball deflecting off of him.

Although a 2-2 draw may seem a disappointing result considering our dominance last season there, previous Premier League starts compared to this term may surprise you.

Firstly, lets get onto this seasons start. It has been disappointing away from home – no doubt. We had a chance at Fulham to go 3-1 up, but missed a penalty before conceding an equalizer late on. The horrendous implosion against Everton will no doubt be a fixture we will look back on all season, considering how we could have extended the lead further and now the loss of two points when both Chelsea and Arsenal dropped points yesterday. There is no doubt that we should have accumulated more points by now, however looking back at successful seasons – we aren’t doing too bad.

After six games we have twelve points from a possible eighteen – all lost away from home. Below us a list of season starts over the years that you may find interesting:

95/96 – 15 points – 3 home games 3 away games (Premier League title and FA Cup)

97/98 – 16 points – 3 home games 3 away games (Nothing)

98/99 – 11 points – 3 home games 3 away games (European Cup, Premier League title and FA Cup)

01/02 – 11 points – 3 home games 3 away games (Nothing)

02/03 – 8 points – 3 home games 3 away games (Premier League title)

03/04 – 13 points – 3 home games 3 away games (FA Cup)

06/07 – 13 points – 3 home games 3 away games (Premier League title)

07/08 – 11 points – 3 home games 3 away games (European Cup and Premier League title)

09/10 – 15 points – 3 home games 3 away games (League Cup)

Now i’ve picked these seasons (where we’ve won something) at random, as I know someone will pick me up on the order of it and I welcome any discussion on this. We’ve got more points that in 98/99 and 07/08 where we won both the League title and the European Cup, whilst we have less points than we had in 97/98 and 03/04 where we won the FA Cup (in the latter season). The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that although it is disappointing as on a few occasions this season it appears that we have ‘thrown away’ some points to teams we should beat – however football has a funny way of working out. Beckham scoring a last minute freekick in our opening fixture in 1998 is a far cry from Ole sliding on his knees in the Nou Camp ten months later isn’t. Disappointing, but not all doom and gloom yet.

Bolton wanting it more

I don’t know if ‘wanting it more’ is the right title to use, however if you compare the ‘headers won’ from last season compared to today – it makes some interesting reading. Below is Edwin Van Der Sar’s distribution (mainly from goal kicks) last season (when we won 4-0):

 by Guardian Chalkboards

If you compare the above passing stats to his stats today, you’ll see that United only won a single header from his goal kicks:

 by Guardian Chalkboards

So why weren’t we as competitive as we were last season there? Gary Cahill was playing last season aswell, who you could argue is better in the air than Ricketts. United’s setup was more 4-2-3-1 last season, however should we have competed more for headers from Van Der Sar’s distribution? We won seven times more headers in 09/10 vs. Bolton than we did today. If we look at the inverse and see how we dealt with Bolton’s direct setup, it shows we struggled much more than we did last term. Below are Jussi Jaaskelainen’s passing stats:

 by Guardian Chalkboards

The majority of his passes were won by Elmander or Davies, with Jonny Evans and Vidic losing out, although based upon the stats above, it would appear that Evans was being targeted more so than Vidic by Jaaskelainen’s long balls. In comparison to last season, where Vidic and Evans both played – you’ll see a much different picture:

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Although Jaaskelainen did attempt more passes (all long balls) the ratio for successful to unsuccessful passes shifts dramatically. Bolton’s style means that they will, or should, win more headers from their direct approach than they lose. Elmander and Davies are big strong players, who do attempt to bully defenders around – with Davies being the main focus.

This isn’t a criticism of their style, it is just an observation of the two conflicting graphs above. It is perhaps ironic that both goals didn’t actually come as a result of this approach, however it could well demonstrate why United failed to convert all three points. There is no doubt United played the better football (outpassed 373:181 also) and were the better team, in the first half at least, but did Ferguson’s men compete enough and adapt to Bolton’s style? What are your thoughts on this theory?

4 Comments on Start of season woes and Bolton round up

  1. Really interesting analysis. For me the most interesting thing here is comparing how much more Edwin was involved in our play this year over last year. I think from counting he played 12 short passes this year compared to only 4 this year. I reckon that’s a sign that Bolton pressed us much higher up the pitch in an attempt to close down our defenders and increase the pressure on us. Further, VDS uses the short pass when he’s often rolling the ball out, the fact that he did this three times more than he did last year shows how up for this game Bolton were – only 3 of those short passes this year came from goal kicks. United had to play the ball out from the back much more this year rather than controlling from the middle like last year.

  2. If we don’t seal up our defence our title challenge could be gone by christmas.evans should have been dropped today but fergie probably had his reasons.we have to play Sunderland,stoke & city next & if our defence is not right it’s curtains.I would take 8 points out of nine now.
    Rooney has to stop feeling sorry for himself & get on with it.the rest of the team want to win a league & he shouldn’t be wallowing in self-pity.
    Not a bad start by any means considering the teams we have played.
    Our dominance didn’t show on the scoreboard today.Defence has to be sorted out now

  3. It still always frustrates me, especially in games where it’s not working, to see top teams forever hoofing the ball upfield from goal-kicks. By getting to a high level you’ve usually done it by being good technically, so why are we so often wasting posession by lumping it up top and hoping for the best? Now I know sometimes opposing strikers will harry defenders as soon as a ball’s going toward them and you’d need to kick to negate that. I can also appreciate that when you need a goal quickly the ball is better in their half than yours. But why the rest of the time? Why not trust your defenders to be able to pick a short pass a bit more? You’re paying for, supposedly, high-grade players, trust them.

  4. Interesting stats there. Thanks.

    I do understand that our start this season so far is not bad compared to past seasons.

    However, what you’ve provided here were our position after 6 games in (selected seasons).

    What would be better was to provide the points amassed by other teams in those seasons at this point of time as well.

    Then we can really compare if we did better or worse.

    Just my opinion.

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