Manchester United’s season is over and now it is time for us to further inspect how all of the four lines have done in the past year. We already wrote about goalkeepers and the roles David De Gea and Sergio Romero had in that campaign. We also mentioned how good or bad their performances have been.
Now it is time for us to do the same about our defenders. There were some big changes in that regard, some improvements across the entire team and also some individual performances worth remembering. Let’s dig just right into it all.
Across the entire season and all competitions, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer used 15 defenders. However, that is too big of a number to be looked at in its entirety, since six of those 15 players did not even make 10 appearances. One of the remaining nine players had 10 appearances, whilst another two made just 11.
In fact, this was one of the parts of the squad where the starting four were really obvious when all things were right. Harry Maguire made 55 appearances, Victor Lindelof had 47, as the second centre-back. Aaron-Wan Bissaka made 45 starts, whilst Brandon Williams and Luke Shaw had made 36 and 33 appearances respectively. Ashley Young, who left midway through the season, was the only other player with more than 11 appearances – he ended up with 18.
Therefore, it is clear how little Solskjaer was inclined to chop and change in that defensive department. One of the reasons was also Eric Bailly’s niggling injuries which yet again had kept him away from the pitch. With not much quality to choose from off the bench, there was no reason for Solskjaer to rotate more. That is why Maguire played almost 5000 minutes and why Wan-Bissaka and Lindelof were another two players with 4000+ minutes spent on the pitch.
Looking overall, this was a season in which Manchester United made improvements defensively. We have already mentioned a lot of times that United, looking the whole season, did not make too many improvements in raw numbers. In 2018-19 they scored 65 goals and in this past season there 66 of those. Man United had 66 points in both campaigns, but in this latter one they finished in third place, rather than sixth, due to less quality in other teams challenging for Champions League football. But one aspect they clearly improved was defence.
In 2018-19, this team conceded 54 goals, but in 2019-20, there were just 36 of those, only three more than champions Liverpool and one more than Manchester City. And the underlying numbers also improved. In the year before the last one, Solskjaer’s side was on average expected to concede 47.9 goals, which was 6.1 goals better than their actual tally, obviously meaning United’s defence clearly underperfomed.
But this season expected goals against stood at 37.4, or 1.4 goals more than United actually conceded. Solskjaer improved the side with two important signings in Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who played really big part in their maden seasons at Old Trafford. But Solskjaer should also be aplauded for finding ways to offer more stability to the team going forwards. There is still some clear space for improvement in defensive areas, especially at set-pieces, but the 2019-20 season already showed a positive trajectory. Hopefully it will continue in this coming season.