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Evolution Or Revolution – Manchester United


Evolution or Revolution is a new series from Stats Perform looking at which teams need only a few tweaks ahead of the 2020/21 season and which require a fundamental reboot. In our second piece, Arash Rezai (@rezla) analyses the key pain points that Manchester United need to fix before the season begins. 

By: Arash Rezai

David De Gea or Dean Henderson?

One of the big talking points at Manchester United over the past two seasons has been David de Gea’s form. After a standout campaign in 2017/18 and rumours that Real Madrid were sniffing around the Spaniard, it has all gone downhill for the Red Devils’ main man.

Based on Stats Perform’s expected goals on target data (xGoT), David de Gea has prevented just one goal more than the model would expect the ‘average’ ‘keeper to prevent over the last two Premier League seasons, compared to preventing close to 14 goals with his saves in the 2017/18 campaign alone.

David De Gea: Goals Prevented - Premier League

SeasonGoals ConcededxGOT ConcededGoals Prevented

David de Gea will no doubt be looking over his shoulder at 23-year-old Dean Henderson, who has put in some outstanding performances on loan at Sheffield United for the last two seasons, in the Championship and now the Premier League.

In the 2019/20 Premier League season, only Hugo Lloris (10), Vicente Guatia (nine) and Martin Dubravka (nine) prevented more goals than Dean Henderson (seven) – a great return for a goalkeeper in their debut season in the top-flight and for a keeper in a newly-promoted side.

David de Gea vs. Dean Henderson

Ole Gunnar Solskjær will have a lot to mull over this summer as he has to decide which of his two goalkeepers he wants as Man Utd’s number one.

Stats Perform Verdict: Evolution Required

Defensive Frailties Are Slowly Improving

Manchester United’s defence in 2019/20 improved from their 2018/19 showing. The Red Devils kept 13 clean sheets and conceded 36 goals last season compared to only seven shutouts and 54 goals against in the campaign prior. There is still room for improvement though – only in 1999/00 (12), 2014/15 (11) and 2018/19 (7) have United kept fewer clean sheets in the competition. Similarly, there have been 17 Premier League seasons in which they’ve conceded fewer goals.

An immediate concern for Solskjær will be the rise in his team turning over the ball deep into their own half. Last season, only Norwich (231), Arsenal (198) and Bournemouth (191) had more high turnovers against them – two of those sides were relegated.

High Turnovers Against - Premier League 2019/20

Manchester United may have kept more clean sheets and conceded fewer goals than the 2018/19 campaign, but they are still making nearly as many errors, making seven last season compared to eight the season before.

Man Utd - Errors Leading To Goals

SeasonErrors Leading to Goals

If Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s charges can keep their errors down to a minimum and have better ball retention 40 metres from their own goal, the goals against column should shrink again and it should see them cement their place in the top four for another season.

Manchester United, High Turnovers against 2019/20 PL

Stats Perform Verdict: Evolution Required

Improve Strength In Depth

Manchester United were brilliant after the 2019/20 Premier League restart, with the front three of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial receiving all the plaudits for their deadly combinations and finishing. All three players started the final eight Premier League games of the campaign, helping United secure Champions League football.

Manchester United Front Three - Stats

Whilst that three-pronged attack will have got United fans’ hearts racing, the worry has to be the lack of depth in the squad should one of those stars gets an injury or suspension. At only 18-years-old, Mason Greenwood is clearly a future star, but Man Utd must be careful not to burn him out. Greenwood had played just 115 minutes of league football coming into the 2019/20 campaign. Unfortunately, they are currently lacking another elite option.

Idion Ighalo came in during the January transfer window from the Chinese Super League but made no impact in the Premier League, coming off the bench on 11 occasions and totalling just 92 minutes – just over eight minutes per appearance.

Dan James hit the ground running with his Man Utd career, scoring three goals in his first four Premier League appearances. However, the young Welshman’s last league goal came in August, failing to find the net in the following 23 games. In fact, James has neither scored nor assisted in the league in 2020.

It is no wonder Manchester United have been courting Jadon Sancho. The Dortmund man would be a perfect option on the right of the front three, giving time for Greenwood to develop without the pressure of playing an excessive amount of football. With an additional striker in the centre of the park, Man Utd can be a force in all competitions and mount a serious title challenge in seasons to come.

Stats Perform Verdict: Evolution Required

Review our other pieces in this series:
Manchester City
Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City
Leeds United
West Brom

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