By Tom White and Ben Mayhew, PA
Manchester United’s defensive woes continued as they were torn apart by Liverpool in a 5-0 home defeat on Sunday.
It came on the back of conceding four in last week’s defeat at Leicester while they also trailed 2-0 in the midweek Champions League clash with Atalanta before coming back to win 3-2.
That is their worst three-game defensive run for exactly 25 years, since losing 5-0 to Newcastle and 6-3 to Southampton in October 1996 either side of a 2-1 League Cup win over Swindon.
Here, the PA news agency looks at the alarming trend and the statistics behind it.
Shoot on sight
Only five Premier League teams have faced more shots on target than United this season, a clear indicator that their defenders are not doing enough to prevent clear sights of goal.
That list finds them in unwanted company, with the possible exception of Leicester – and even they are underperforming, relative to recent seasons, in ninth place.
Rock-bottom Norwich have allowed 51 efforts on target, two worse than Leeds on 41 at the extreme of the figures. Newcastle and Leicester follow on 45 and Watford 44, with United next up on 42.
That is one more than Burnley, who occupy the final relegation place, and two more than Crystal Palace, while the comparison to the teams they wish to challenge for the title is deeply unflattering.
Chelsea have faced 31 shots on target and Liverpool just 26 while local rivals Manchester City have allowed only 15, barely a third of United’s total.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 10, 2021
Summer signing Raphael Varane has made only seven appearances for his new club so far – five full games in the league and a game and a half in the Champions League – before suffering an injury playing for France.
Despite that small sample his absence, coupled with Harry Maguire playing through an injury, has been keenly felt in United’s dismal run since the international break.
The pair have been Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first-choice pairing and played the full game together in the team’s only clean sheet of the season, the 1-0 win over Wolves, while Victor Lindelof has filled in when required.
United have conceded only four goals in Varane’s five league games, 0.8 per game – half of the figure in Maguire’s eight appearances while they have shipped 2.2 per game with Lindelof in the line-up.
Their defensive statistics on the official Premier League website also show the Swede trailing his colleagues in tackles, clearances and both duels and aerial challenges won on a per-game basis, albeit slightly ahead on interceptions with 0.8 per game to his colleagues’ 0.6. Varane is the most prolific tackler and has the best record in duels, with Maguire leading in most other categories.
Season of struggle in store?
Although nine games is not a lot to base an assessment on, the signs are worrying for United’s league position this season.
United’s current record of 14 points from nine games equates to 1.56 points per game which, if it lasted all season, would leave them on 59 points.
Even more concerning is the comparison to the same nine fixtures last season. They beat both Southampton away and Aston Villa at home, but have taken only one point from those two games this season, and with last season’s draw at Leicester they are six points worse off for the equivalent games.
If that is a true representation of their decline, it projects to a drop of around 25 points over a full season – which, compared to last season’s final total of 74, would leave them on 49.
That would have only been good enough for 12th place last season while 59 points would have matched Leeds and Everton in ninth and 10th – a far cry from the club’s ambitions.