The Premier League has taken another of those brief breaks, which provides us all with a window to reflect on how different clubs have fared so far in the opening seven games of the new season. As is always the case, some clubs have enjoyed great starts, some sketchy and unsure while a few other clubs have downright disappointed going into this second international break in October.
Manchester United have had a very interestingly positive opening seven games in 2017/18. They are unbeaten in the league, accruing 19 points out of a possible 21, averaging almost 3 goals a game and conceding only 2 so far. In fact, United have shipped just 12 goals in 27 Premier League outings in this calendar year, making them objectively the best defensive unit in the country.
However, the problem at United for the last 12-18 months had been at the other end of the pitch. Under Louis van Gaal, United struggled to create clear goal-scoring chances so much so that they ended up 17th in the list for ‘chances created’ in 2015/16 – the season they missed out on fourth by goal difference, rather ironically.
Then, Mourinho took over a side that he claimed was ‘unhappy and short of confidence’ and the response to his unique style of man-management was certainly evident and encouraging.
He made Manchester United exciting to watch again, as the Red Devils rose 13 places up to fourth in the table for ‘chances created’ – yet somehow, they finished a lowly sixth, in a campaign that underwhelmed, courtesy of an astonishingly poor conversion rate. Besides the then 35-year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored a raft of goals until a ligament injury that ruled him out from April, few chipped in. And fewer in the Premier League.
As a result, United converted a measly 12% of the total goal-scoring chances they created (1 in 8) and to put that in context, title winners Chelsea managed a goal out of every 5 chances (approx) and that, one could argue, was enough to gain a 24-point difference in the league table between themselves and Manchester United.
So, what can United expect in 2017/18 – when they seem to have found that missing ingredient to win games they would have most likely drawn last season?
The tides have turned, or at least there are clear signs of improvement at Manchester United in front of goal. United create pretty much at the same rate they did last season, but their conversion rate has shot up significantly.
Mourinho’s devastatingly lethal United have created 91 chances in 6 games so far – and they are only fifth in the league with Man City leading the way, followed by Liverpool and the two North London clubs. Yet, United sit above three of the four sides in that list, with only goal difference separating them and neighbours Manchester City.
It’s hard to exactly quantify how much a side has improved other than looking at the very basic numbers and how they influence results. Not only has United’s conversion rate spiked – a figure that now stands at 19% (remember Chelsea, last season?) but they are also starting games much better than they did last season or in fact, the last four seasons.
The Red Devils have taken the lead in 6 of the 7 games in the Premier League – and also managed to break the deadlock first in both their Champions League encounters, making them formidable enough to be able to impose themselves on lesser sides – games they struggled to get over the line so many times in the season before.
But as with any interpretation, this too is not foolproof and caveats do exist. United have certainly impressed so far, but the Red Devils have yet to face any of the fellow ‘top six’ and funnily enough, all the sides they have come up against in these first six weeks currently languish in the bottom half of the table – scrambling for points.
That may be entirely coincidental, but the definitive answer, fortunately lies on the other side of this international break as United enter a period where they will be put under stern tests – at Anfield and Stamford Bridge in the next six weeks, with games against Spurs and Huddersfield Town also coming up – to cap off an important month – when they will also play Benfica in the Champions League – home and away.
All signs do point to a fantastic season for the Reds, but once again, only time can tell as to how far they have really come under the Portuguese manager.
Data via Whoscored, unless otherwise mentioned.