Manchester United host Liverpool live on Sky Sports Premier League this Sunday, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer under serious pressure – but what’s causing his side to struggle?
United currently sit 12th in the league table with just two wins, against Chelsea and Leicester. The wheels have certainly come off for Solskjaer after his explosive impact when he was appointed last December.
Man Utd vs Liverpool
October 20, 2019, 3:00pm
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As the chart below shows, United’s league form has now dipped to levels below those recorded under Jose Mourinho last term, stagnating with an average of just one point per game.
Defensively, not much has changed, apart from a spike in goals conceded during the final two months of last season.
This campaign, United’s mean backline are conceding a similar number of goals as they did during their purple patch last season, while the stats also suggest not much has changed with general distribution.
However, their attacking problems ring loud and clear.
Struggling to finish
This season, Solskjaer’s side are achieving fewer shots on target and netting fewer goals, hitting the target around five times per game and scoring only one per game, on average.
The graphic below shows how United have been taking far more speculative shots from long range (red line) but fewer from dangerous positions inside the box (blue line), despite a recent spike in the latter.
In terms of big chances created, United are currently averaging close to just one per game – suggesting they are missing creative impetus in midfield.
When looking at the players behind the stats, Paul Pogba emerges as United’s most prolific creator for clear-cut chances since August last year, followed by Ashley Young, Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford and the out-on-loan Alexis Sanchez.
Of those players, only Rashford has been available and selected regularly this term. So the stats suggest United are missing creative forces and paying for injuries to Pogba and their full-backs.
We can measure the quality of chances created by United using Opta’s xG model.
That data implies Solskjaer’s side scored far more than expected when he was first appointed, through a combination of good fortune, opposition errors and clinical finishing.
But United have consistently scored fewer than expected since April, a trend which began after the sensational Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain in March.
So, United have failed to capitalise on limited chances for four months.
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Missing a conventional striker?
Romelu Lukaku was offloaded to Inter Milan this summer, with his slower style jarring with Solskjaer’s high-energy preference, but his departure meant the club were left without a conventional, out-and-out striker.
Lukaku remains the only forward to surpass an average of two shots from inside the box per game for United since last season started, which suggests an agile, conventional striker could be on the January shopping list.
Where do Man Utd rank?
As a result of the recent attacking deficiencies, Solskjaer’s side languish bottom of the ‘Big Six’ rankings with their nine goals – a stark contrast to the 29 scored by rivals Manchester City.
Even more damning: out of all Premier League clubs, only Crystal Palace and Newcastle have created fewer big chances this season.
Click or tap on the headings of this interactive table to explore the stats
So the pressure ramps up another notch on Solskjaer as he prepares his side to face the ‘perfect’ league leaders.
United will be boosted by the returning Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw, and Mason Greenwood, however, Solskjaer will be without still-injured chief creator Pogba and goalkeeper David de Gea after the Spain international suffered a groin strain on international duty.
But can they overcome the underlying stats which have held them back this season to spring a surprise?