Man Utd took another step towards retaining the Premier League title as they stopped their two match losing streak. While the headlines will go to the return of Paul Scholes, scoring the opener and recording 69′ of pitch time before being replaced by Ryan Giggs, Scholes was not the most influential player on the pitch. At least, not according to the numbers.
Between the stick, Anders Lindegaard may have regained his form and composure after allowing three against Newcastle; he kept one of the easiest clean sheets that he’ll ever see. He made one clearance, but he recorded no saves, no challenges and was responsible for only 28 total touches on the ball. His passing was acceptable, completing 13 of 18 passes. The ease of the clean sheet was due to Bolton’s inability to get a ball on the frame. While the Trotters took 10 shots, the managed just 1 on target, 5 off target and the remaining 4 were blocked before getting to Lindegaard. Certainly this can not be expected every week but after conceding three in back-to-back matches a clean sheet was a welcome sight.
Lindegaard owes a good deal to his defenders including Rafael. In the win, Rafael finally played a full 90′ League fixture this season. He has now made two two starts, with his first 84′ coming in the 2-3 loss to Blackburn at Old Trafford on New Years Eve. In this match he was involved, challenging 14 times on ground 50/50’s and winning 7. He also made all three of the tackles he attempted and passed well, completing 50 of 56 passes, good for a 90% completion percentage (Paul Scholes also managed a 90% pass accuracy on his return), joint third highest for the squad behind only Valencia and Carrick at 91%.
Rafael’s efforts were central to the success of a defensive unit which attempted 25 tackles, winning 80%. The team also won 52% of the ground duels, with a 50/50 of this nature occurring 89 times over the course of the 93′ played. In truth, the defenders were not as pressured in this match either, having to make just 28 clearances, and succeeding with 14. The centre halve pairing of Evans and Ferdinand attempted 15 of those, succeeding 7 times, while Rafael successfully cleared the ball on 4 of his 5 attempts. After having to contest 121 and 118 ground duels against Blackburn and Newcastle, the 89 ground duels marks a 26% reduction. Interestingly, this does not stem from the possession held, with United holding 62.7% of the possession in this match but also holding 62.9% against Blackburn and 60.3% against Newcastle.
Although Man Utd as a club were finally able to convert the prolonged dominance in possession into a comfortable scoreline, this was a difficult match for their leading scorer. Wayne Rooney missed a penalty kick, highlighting his inability to score from the spot. OptaJoe noted that he has now failed to score on 4 of his last 8 penalty attempts. Opta credits him with 10 shots, though only 3 found the target. This would typically have resulted for a goal or more as, on the season, Rooney had been very good at converting chances. While the bulk of his scoring came in the first few matches, he has been creating chances, if not assists, and contributing on the defensive end. All of this has been accomplished while still passing at better than 80% in open play.
Rooney was not stifled against Bolton, rather his usually sure finishing touch was not on display. Without a goal to his credit in this match he converted 0% of chances. On the season he has been converting chances at 19%. He is also scoring on 56% of his shots on target, despite failing to score in his three on target in this match.
Overall it was a comfortable win, more notable because of the struggles Man Utd have had with Blackburn and Newcastle. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the game is how easily they dominated a bottom side. While United were intercepted 28 times, and lost possession a further 12 times, they still created a chance every 4:42′ and took a shot on target every 11:36. That is a non-stop barrage on the opposition end and an offensive display that would have resulted in markedly better results in the past two matches.
In the Blackburn match United did manage to create a chance every 5:54′ but they translated that into one shot on goal per 19:00′. Against Newcastle they were even worse, creating four total chances (1 every 23:48′), and taking a shot on goal every 31:42′. It is wholly unsurprising that they scored just two goals in the two matches. With the depth of players at his disposal, Sir Alex will have been deeply disappointed to have let 6 vital points slip through his grasp and this win against Bolton will have been no more than he expected. This match will have come at the right time, with trips to Emirates and Anfield in the League and FA Cup, respectively, in the next two weeks.