Analysing Manchester United’s start under Erik ten Hag


It has been a mixed start to the season for Manchester United. The start was poor, as they lost their first two matches to Brighton and Brentford. The manner of the defeat to Brentford caused alarm bells to ring. Some even suggested that a managerial change could be on the horizon, but those concerns were premature. Since then, there has been improvement and United have moved into 5th position.

Incredibly, they are six points off the top with a game in hand. Ten Hag and supporters won’t be expecting to be in that particular conversation, as this will be viewed as a year of transition under the new manager. However, it will give some encouragement that there is still all to play for this season. Below, we will take a look at some key stats and discuss where Manchester United are in comparison to the rest of the league.

One small concern will be the attack, as United have only scored eight goals in the Premier League. This means they have the joint-worst return in the top half, joint with Chelsea and Newcastle United.

In terms of the underlying numbers, Manchester United have created 8.81 expected goals (xG), which means their attack is performing roughly in line with their performance indicators. If the team are to challenge for a top four finish, they will need to improve these numbers, as nine teams have recorded a higher xG than them. Despite United playing one less game, this will be an area that ten Hag will want improvement in.

The shot numbers show that Manchester United need to be more productive. They are averaging 12.5 shots per ninety minutes, which ranks them as eighth in the Premier League. To provide some context, they trail Leeds United, Newcastle United and Brighton. Considering the aims of Ten Hag’s side in comparison to those three teams, it is a stat that the Dutchman will want to see increase. He will believe that as the team settles into his style of play, an improvement is inevitable.

Although their shot numbers are low, they are creating high quality chances when they do have attempts on goal. Their xG/shot is 0.11, which is the joint third highest in the division.

Defensively, Manchester United have an xG conceded of 8.04 and they have conceded eight times. Like their attack, they are performing roughly in line with their performance indicators.

The worrying thing for Ten Hag will be that United have only managed to restrict their opponent to less than 1 xG on a single occasion. That came against Leicester City. In the rest of their matches, they have conceded high value chances. A team with top four ambitions will need to be much better in this aspect of the game.

Ten Hag will be delighted that his team have managed to win four successive matches, especially after the disappointing first two matches. There has been some fortune during that run, with their attack and defence performing at a similar level.

Over the coming months, they will need to see improvements at both ends, so they create more chances and restrict their opponents to fewer quality chances. Their points tally has put them in a strong position, but to challenge for the top four, Ten Hag will be realistic. The current performance level won’t get them there.

Stats taken from Understat and fbref (powered by Statsbomb)


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