Two damning stats highlight Manchester United’s painfully predictable problem
Man Utd have struggled for goals this season and it really hasn’t been that much of a surprise.
If you were to ask Erik ten Hag what Manchester United’s biggest problem has been this season, he would tell you it has been their rotten injury luck.
He has a point. United have suffered from a string of setbacks and have rarely been able to field the same side on consecutive occasions, which has contributed to their lack of an identity and inability to gather any momentum.
Yet, it is also a convenient excuse. United’s issues have been worse than most, but they are still blessed with enviable squad depth, and regardless of who has been on the pitch, their performances simply haven’t been good enough either.
Ten Hag insists United are in a ‘very good’ position considering their injury setbacks so far, but the Premier League table flatters them considering how unconvincing most of their seven wins have been along the way.
United’s big problem is that they have yet to win convincingly in any match that matters this campaign, only winning with real ease against Crystal Palace in the Carabao Cup, though they were then brought back down to earth by losing to them a few days later.
A key component of that has been their inability to make pressure count. In so many matches this season, there have been opportunities for them to put the game to bed and missed opportunities to alter the outcome. They have largely been squandered.
Though there are positives to take from United’s ability to grind out gritty wins and the positive mentality it demonstrates, there are still concerns over how few goals they are scoring, particularly if they ever want to mount a serious title challenge.
United’s 1-0 win over Luton Town last time out was their 20th by a one-goal margin in the Premier League since the start of last season; no other side during that time has more than 13.
Of the managers with at least 30 wins in the competition, only Paul Jewell, Chris Hughton, Mike Walker and Alex McLeish have won a higher percentage of their games by a single goal than Ten Hag (67% – 20/30). None of those were in charge of clubs with as much expectation or, indeed, as much financial backing as the current United manager.
United might point to their scoring record in the Champions League as evidence they are on the right track, where they have netted nine goals in just four matches, three of which ended in defeat.
It is always different in cup competitions, though, and there can be no hiding across the course of a league season. United’s 13 goals in the Premier League this season are the fewest of any side in the top 12 places.
The statistics are even worse on an individual basis. Marcus Rashford has just one league goal from an xG (expected goals) ratio of 3.9 this season and Rasmus Hojlund has none when he would be expected to score 2.5. The two United forwards are underperforming compared to their expected goals total by the greatest margin in the competition so far.
It has all been painfully predictable as well. Hojlund has been excellent in some matches and anonymous in others. It’s what you’d expect from a 20-year-old striker new to the Premier League, but he is being judged on a price tag, goal return, and level of consistency he was never going to be able to fulfil so early into his career.
He needs support in the forward line, but that in part relies on Rashford sustaining a world-class level of output that he was always unlikely to achieve and support act Antony finally stepping into the limelight as a headline performer.
The problem with a high-risk, high-reward transfer approach is that it is always far more likely to backfire, and although United can afford to play the lottery more than most, there can be little sympathy when their numbers don’t come up.
United’s lack of goals is as painful as it was predictable.