One step forward, two steps back - Manchester United's story this season
Consistency seems to be a thing of past at Old Trafford. Manchester United just do not seem to be able to put together a run of good results. This includes their worst run in the recent past when they went 8 games without a win, including 6 in the Premier League. United's best run this season was way back in September when they won three games in a row (yes THREE!). Their most recent slump, back to back defeats to Sunderland and Midtjylland follows impressive results against Liverpool and Chelsea. And truth be told, that sums up the story of their season so far.
Injuries just an excuse?
The Red Devils' inability to consistently win games might prove to be costly. Ever since their impressive 3-0 win at Everton on 17th October, they have managed only 22 points in 17 games since then. Even Sunderland have picked up just about the same number (20 points).
Louis van Gaal has been crying foul of the number of players out injured lately. But the results over the course of their season hint at a problem much bigger than that. The injuries have definitely made it a lot more difficult, but the Red Devils have lost games even with most players fit. The results have been poor irrespective of injuries.
Moreover, after having spent £250m ever since arriving, LVG cannot complain about there not being enough funds available to have depth in the squad. Even the wage bills reportedly exceed that of Manchester City.
Dismal record against minnows
What has been particularly disappointing so far has been the results against the smaller teams. Let us break down their statistics of this season against the teams placed in the bottom half:
|Against bottom half||15||5||5||5||+20||-16||+4||20|
|Against bottom six||10||3||2||5||+14||-14||0||11|
|Against top half||11||7||2||2||+14||-9||+5||22|
Their record against the bottom half is appalling. It is puzzling to even think that they have collected only 11 points out of 30 available against the bottom six who are, in most contexts of a season, the relegation threatened teams. In fact, United have conceded more than half of their goals to the teams who are fighting to even stay in the Premier League.
This is in contrast to the record boasted by their 'noisy neighbours'. Manchester City have 34 points against the bottom half in 13 games with a goal difference of +26. The red side of Manchester, for some reason, just cannot get the results needed against the lower ranked teams.
Same story last season
Van Gaal's hoodoo with the minnows is not a new thing. Last season, their away record against them might have cost them the title in fact! Let us have a look at last season's statistics:
|Away record (2014/15)||Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||For||Against||GD||Points|
|Against bottom half||10||2||6||2||+11||-13||-2||12|
United dropped 18 points away from home to lower ranked teams last season. While goal scoring has generally been an issue throughout, they have definitely not come at small teams. They ultimately fell short of the summit by 17 points but things might have turned out differently but for this dreadful record.
Best record against big teams
It is surprising that United have the best record in the league against the top 10 teams. Their points per game ratio against the top half is the best in the league. They average 2.09 points per game! But United's calculated approach to games just does not seem to be working against the small teams. They have been unable to unlock the stubborn defences. They have often lacked the cutting edge. This is highlighted in their points per game ratio of 1.33 against the bottom half teams.
The hoodoo has to end
There are 12 games remaining in the league. United are to play 6 times against the bottom half teams. If this minnow hoodoo continues and United continue with the same points per game ratio, they will have collected 8 points in these 6 games. Well in the context of the race for top 4, that will mean 10 valuable dropped points. Manchester City lie 6 points ahead of United and they have got their own problems against the top half teams.
They have 13 points in 13 games against them. But what is in favour of them is the fact that they have an impressive points-per-game ratio of 2.62 against the bottom half teams. And out of their remaining 12 games, 7 are against the bottom half.
Calculating mathematically, the Citizens should collect 18 points from those games, dropping only 3 in the process. This means that the statistics are in favour of Manchester City finishing ahead of United. So unless things change dramatically for United, the Red Devils will have to be content without Champions League football for some time now. While at such a time of struggle it is easy to be critical of Van Gaal and his philosophy but perhaps there is no other way to look at the situation.