Prior to their victory over Everton, Manchester United had not won a match 1-0 since the start of the 2011-12 campaign. In fact, they had not won a match 1-0 since they defeated Everton by that score line at Old Trafford on April 23. However, they have now won by that score line in each of their past two English Premier League fixtures. While a loan Wes Brown o.g. is not the most memorable of victories, the fact that United have finally gotten back to winning on the back of strong defensive effort is a positive sign for this season’s ambitions.
This match also marked the fourth consecutive match without a goal allowed. Following a win away to Aldershot Town in the Carling Cup, United also won 1-0 at Goodison in the League and defeated Otelul Galati 2-0 at home in the Champions League. Last season United did not manage to keep four consecutive clean sheets, though they did twice keep three on the bounce. In the 2010/11 campaign the Red Devils had nine 1-0 wins, including such victories over Chelsea in the Champions League and both Liverpool and Arsenal in the English Premier League. Not coincidentally this run of form has coincided with the return to fitness of Nemanja Vidic.
Vidic’s return means that Sir Alex will have less inclination to use a center pairing of Evans/Smalling/Jones and provides stability in the form of a defender who is infrequently caught on the ball and wins nearly three of every four challenges.
Certainly each player has strengths, and these statistics are skewed by positional assignment, but Vidic’s strength at winning 50/50 balls both on the ground and in the air is unmatched by his replacements. Furthermore, Vidic does not get dribbled past or commit mental mistakes which are often reflected in the statistics as defensive errors. This season he has lost possession of the ball only a single time. With the Red Devils having their star centre half healthy, they should be able to build on their current run.
This was not proved to be the case in this match as United failed to play a distinctly better game than Sunderland and the effort on the pitch will not have been to an acceptable standard for Sir Alex. In looking broadly at the statistics available for this match we can see that United were not better defensively, though they showed their class passing the ball and in the final third.
Sir Alex’ side were worse slightly worse at winning the ground duels, with the Black Cats holding a 52%:48% edge. Further, they attempted barely 1/3 of the tackles attempted by Steve Bruce’s side. They also lost possession nearly twice as frequently, a statistic that should portend a loss. Not only did they lose the ball every 6:42 they also were dribbled past 3 times.
Their effort in the passing game was much better, with United attempting nearly 120 more passes in open play (OPP) and completing passes significantly more frequently – 84% compared to SAFC’s 76%. The passing game dominance helped to offset the number of times United lost possession, and they enjoyed a large possession advantage, holding the ball for 57.3% of the match. While we frequently look only at the numbers provided here, it is important to note that 57.3% of the match equates to 53:49′. This means that for only 36:11′ were Sunderland in control of the ball in the match, barely more than a half an hour.
As we can see in the chart to the left, United completed 1.2 more passes per minute. Though they completed a lower overall percentage of their passes going forwards, the higher volume of passes, coupled with the greater time of possession, illustrates that United were pushing the ball forward more than their opponents.
The visitors also lacked for individual skill, with United’s squad embarking on 8 dribbles to Sunderland’s 3 and United taking 9 additional crosses, finding success on one more attempt. This contributed directly to United’s great chances created. While Manchester United creating 9 chances at home is not a good number (they created 6 away to Everton last time out) this was a better effort in the attack than the 1-6 loss suffered recently where the Red Devils managed just 6 chances created.
Interestingly, United did do more than enough, statistically, that a 1-0 scoreline does not flatter them. While everyone involved can take a deep breath and shake their head over the manner of the goal, United did manage to create a substantial attack. This match is one where the numbers paint a rosier picture than watching the highlights.
This season Manchester United has created 128 chances and scored 27 goals. Taking away the 9 created here that leaves 119 chances, or roughly 1 goal for every 4.4 chances created. When you take into consideration that Sunderland were playing their second choice ‘keeper it would be reasonable to think that this attack, even with Rooney playing a more withdrawn midfield role, could have managed two goals of their own from the chances they created.
While some may regard this victory grimly, and others undoubtedly will say ‘it’s 3 points regardless’, the facts presented prove that this match was not as disappointing a the 1-0 (Wes Brown og 45′) scoreline reads. With a favorable run of fixtures to follow the international break, United and their supporters have every right to regard this victory as another step towards the League title.