Dissecting the performance of Manchester United in the first half of the Premier League season
This Barclays Premier League season has been a closely contested affair so far and has given us plenty of surprises. Nobody would have expected Leicester to have been at the top of the table on Christmas. There is so little separating the teams that even a 10th placed Stoke City side could jump up to 5th in a fortnight if other results go in their favour.
Leicester City have proved a lot of doubters wrong by continuing to impress fans and pundits alike with their entertaining football and have scored the most number of goals this season, along with Manchester City. Arsenal, riding on Mesut Ozil’s sumptuous form are currently sitting on the top and even Tottenham Hotspurs have shown ‘maturity’ in their displays.
Manchester United was expected to build on to last season’s top 4 finish and mount a title challenge this term. However, they find themselves 6th in the table after 19 game weeks and are on a winless streak of six games in the league and eight in all competitions. The pressure has intensified on Louis Van Gaal and time seems to be running out for the 64-year-old Dutch Tactician.
More and more fans have expressed their displeasure and frustration at his methods and philosophy and chants of ‘attack, attack, attack’ can be heard quite a few times coming from the Stretford End. So let us look at some statistics, mostly in terms of goals, and see for ourselves if the criticism has been justified or not:
- United have amassed 6 fewer points and have scored 11 goals less (22 so far this season) than they did at the same stage last season. Even David Moyes had managed 4 more points at this stage in 2013/14 and United had scored 10 more goals!
- Although, it would not be fair to compare this United side to the one that played under Sir Alex Ferguson in his last season as manager (2012/13), but just for the record United had scored more than double the number of goals (48) and had collected 46 points by this stage!
- The tally of 22 goals after 19 games is United’s second lowest in the Premier League, and you have to go back to the 1992-93 season for a worse tally when Norwich City were top at this stage of the season (although United went on to win the League comfortably in the end).
- United under LVG are making a name for not scoring enough goals as they managed only their second-worst tally in the Premier League last season with 62 goals (58 is the worst: 2004/05 season). So United will have to score at least two goals every game from now to avoid recording the lowest goal tally!
- On the positive side, United boast the second best defensive record this season and have conceded the lowest number of goals after 19 games (16) in 7 years! United had kept a record 11 consecutive clean sheets in the 2008/09 season with of course one of the best centre-back pairings of Ferdinand and Vidic with Van der Sar in goal.
Van Gaal’s philosophy
Van Gaal’s methods have come in for heavy criticism from all quarters, fans and media alike. Paul Scholes has even gone to the extent of saying: “It's a team you wouldn't want to play against and it's probably a team you wouldn't want to play in either”. The upcoming match against Swansea City at Old Trafford could decide LVG’s fate and it definitely is a must-win game for United. Vaal Gaal has tasted defeat in all three games against Swansea and has admitted breaking that duck is his first task in the new year. There is, however, so little margin for error that anything but a win could result into his sacking.
The silver lining
The players did respond against Chelsea by putting in an inspired display and maybe should have even won the game if not for the goal-post and some brilliant goalkeeping from Thibaut Courtois. Swansea City have endured some problems of their own and remain without a permanent manager since Gary Monk’s sacking. Red Devils then welcome Sheffield United to Old Trafford for an FA Cup tie the following week. Then they will visit St. James Park to face an inconsistent and struggling Newcastle United side on 13th January.
The Red Devils will want to use their performance against Chelsea as a launch pad and kick-start the new year on the front foot. There is no denying that their performances have been far from convincing thus far, but all it takes to get things going again are a couple of good results.