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Analyzing Manchester United's forwards' performances over the last 2 seasons

Manchester United
Manchester United's attack has been on the up since Ole took over from Mourinho
uday suri
CONTRIBUTOR
Modified 23 Feb 2021
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Manchester United's last 2 seasons [2019-20 and 2020-21*] have been full of ups and downs, but one can't deny that their attacking output has increased significantly since Jose Mourinho was sacked as manager.

The first 6 months of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's reign saw some extreme performances. The initial unbeaten run saw a rejuvenated Man United team play some attacking football that reminded us of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. However, a lack of fitness, bench strength, and experience resulted in a poor end to the season.

1.5 seasons and 4 transfer windows later, Manchester United are one of the best attacking teams in the world and lead the Premier League in terms of goals scored.

This can be attributed to the signing of Bruno Fernandes, Daniel James, and Edinson Cavani, the improvement of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, and the introduction of Mason Greenwood.

So here's a look at the performances of Manchester United's forward line over the last 2 league seasons:


1. Goals Scored by Manchester United Players [2019-21]

Goals Scored [Density: Goals per shot]
Goals Scored [Density: Goals per shot]

Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have contributed with a goal every other match over the last 2 season while Bruno Fernandes has been in sensational form since making his debut mid-way through last season, with a goal-to-game ratio of 0.61.

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Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood have a goal-to-game ratio of 0.5 and 0.29 but they have played a significant chunk of games after coming on from the bench.

2. Shot Maps of Manchester United's Strikers

Shot Maps for United
Shot Maps for United's first team strikers

Edinson Cavani has one of the highest average XG for games played in the top-5 leagues so it's not a surprise that most of his relevant chances over the last 2 seasons (incl. his PSG performances for this graphic) are from inside the box.

Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford seem to have a similar shot map, with both of them squandering a lot of chances with a high Xg while scoring from relatively difficult positions. Although, Marcus Rashford's attempts are well-distributed over the final third of the pitch, while most of Martial's attempts are in and around the penalty box.

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Mason Greenwood has been playing on the right for Manchester United but upon seeing his shot map, it is safe to assume that he needs to be starting in a more central position as he is not getting in the right positions(relatively lower Xg) despite having a good shot conversion rate.

3. Goals Scored by Manchester United: Player & Situation

Goals Scored based on situation of play
Goals Scored based on situation of play

It is well documented that Manchester United don't bury enough chances from dead ball situations, and this can also be seen in the figure above.

Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have score the majority of their goals from open play, while all of Greenwood's goals have come from open play situations.

Bruno's scored 46% of his goals from penalties, while 50% came from open play.

Edinson Cavani's introduction has given United a unique option in attack as he's scored 2 of his 6 goals (33%) from dead-ball situations (1 from a corner and 1 from an indirect free-kick).

4. Average XG of Shots vs Shot Conversion Rate

Average XG vs Goals per shot of Manchester United
Average XG vs Goals per shot of Manchester United's players
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The figure above shows that Cavani is the best out-and-out striker in the club. He has an average Xg of 0.26 which shows that he's one of the best in the world at getting into great positions, and an equally good shot conversion rate of 0.25.

Martial, Rashford, and Bruno have similar Xg and shot conversion rate. These are nice figures for an attacking midfielder but Martial and Rashford would need to improve a bit on their positioning and finishing if they need to become a world class striker.

5. Goals Scored vs Shot Type

Prefered shot type of Manchester United
Prefered shot type of Manchester United's Players
Prefered shot type of Manchester United
Prefered shot type of Manchester United's Players [2]

Manchester United scored a total of 5 headed goals in 2019-20. It was an issue as the full-backs weren't being able to use the space on the flanks to cross the ball, as the strikers rarely got in those positions.

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The introduction of Cavani has surely helped, as he has scored 4 out of 8 headed chances.

Greenwood is said to be equally good with both feet but his shot conversion rate and shot count from his left foot tell us otherwise. Although, this might be due to his starting position (RW).

Overall, it can be seen that, apart from Greenwood, no other player has a good shot conversion rate with his left foot. Hence, the recurring issues at right wing which need addressing.


The above visualizations prove our initial assumption that the signings have made an impact by giving the team unique attacking options. This also showcases that Greenwood, who has had a rough first half of the season, is better suited to play in a more central role.

However, Rashford (23) and Martial (25) will need to find some consistency as it can clearly be seen that their stats have been on the periphery of that of elite strikers, but they just need to take that next step.

Given the average age (24) of their current attack, and the plethora of young strikers in their reserves and U-18 teams, Manchester United's attack looks set for the next decade.

Published 23 Feb 2021, 22:29 IST
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