Manchester United’s early season defensive problems appear to have gone away, conceding only one goal in the last four league games – and that too a contentious penalty at home to Newcastle.
Rather than delve into the reasons behind this new-found defensive solidity – feel free to speculate below – I thought I’d simply illustrate the effect the Manchester City match had on shots conceded (click to enlarge).
The key comparison is between the second and third bars; shots conceded and the average number of shots per game by the respective opponents. Prior to the Sunderland match earlier this month, 9 out of 10 of United’s opponents had at least as many shots as they would expect in an average match. Only Liverpool failed to match their season average, but this is perhaps more symptomatic of the Reds’ problems than a success for Man United.
In the last three games, United have severely restricted their opponents to a below-average number of shots – as you’d expect from a team challenging for the title.
The Everton match is somewhat anomalous, conceding 3.4 more shots than their opponents have averaged yet maintaining a clean sheet. Again, having not watched the match it’s impossible for me to say if this was merely luck, or if Everton faced a sterner defensive test than United’s previous opponents.
The excellent Zonal Marking picked out reasons why United conceded so many early season shots; it’s perhaps important to note that David De Gea’s improved form has probably led to fewer speculative efforts on the Spaniard’s goal.
Nevertheless, the signs are good for Man United, and if they continue to restrict chances then dodgy refereeing decisions shouldn’t disrupt their attempts to claim a twentieth league title.