After Manchester United’s elimination from the Champions League, Louis van Gaal said that their progress in the league and in the Capital One Cup proved that his team were better this season than last.
Not wishing to cast any aspersions on the Dutchman’s comments, SportsMatrix decided to examine the numbers and to compare his team’s performances in their first 15 games of this Premier League season, with the first 15 games of last season.
First the positive. Manchester United are definitely hot on the heels of the league leaders, trailing high flying Leicester City by only three points after 15 games. This time last season they trailed Chelsea by eight points. Whilst they have one point more than last season, they were in 4th place compared to 3rd place last season after 15 games.
But let’s dig deeper. Possession, possession, possession. The Red Devils average 59.7% of live ball possession after 15 games, slightly better than last season (58.6%).
But what are they doing with this possession?
They are creating a slightly more chances a game (10.9) compared to last season (10.2) and the quality of chances almost identical; but this season it seems they don’t want to shoot, with only 50.6% of their chances converted into shots, almost 10% fewer than last season.
Last season they averaged 13.7 attempts on goal and 1.7 goals per game. This season that figure has fallen to 11.5 shots and 1.3 goals per game, with the percentage of goals from chances down from 13.7% last season to 9.8% this season.
United failed to score in two of their opening 15 games in 2014-15, this season they failed to score in a third of their league games.
So is United’s scoring problem down to lacking a top quality striker or two?
Last season after 15 games, Manchester United had 47 dangerous goal attempts, with Rooney and van Persie averaging 0.5 goals a game.
Rooney averages almost the same number of attempts on goal per game as last season (2.4), but this season only 11% of his shots rated were rated as being dangerous, compared to 23% last season.
Whilst Martial has been a revelation, less than a third of his goal attempts were rated as dangerous, whilst last season more than 42% of van Persie’s goal attempts were dangerous.
The aerial threat from the Manchester United strikers has also diminished, with only four headers on goal from Rooney and Martial, compare this to 12 headers from Rooney and van Persie in the same games last season and this appears to be an area where they are lacking this season.
There certainly has been an improvement in their defensive play, with nine clean sheets in 15 games, compared to four in the corresponding 15 games last season.
United’s defence is having to cope with 15% fewer defensive actions this season, with the percentage of good actions carried out by their defence up from 32.4% last season to 39.4% this season. As a result they limited their opponents to fewer chances (7.6) than last season (10.2) and to 27.5% fewer attempts on goal.
On one hand van Gaal may well have a point that his team are improving; but after their loss to Wolfsburg and uncharacteristic flimsy defending, it’s going to require a significant improvement if he is to placate the Old Trafford faithful.