Crosses, Crosses and Even More Crosses

In yet another blow to Manchester United’s already slim chances of finishing the season in the Champion’s League places and thus excluding them from the competition for the first time since 1995, the Red Devils could only draw 2-2 with bottom club Fulham at Old Trafford. Whilst the result was surprising in itself, the stats from this game made for even more fascinating reading.

In a previous post we spoke about Jose Mourinho’s view of West Ham’s ’19th century’ football when they visited Stamford Bridge and parked the bus. If West Ham parked the bus, then Fulham parked the bus and threw away the keys. During the course of the game itself, United had 18 shots on goal with 17 being on target. Compare this with the 6 shots on goal (4 on target) that Fulham managed to muster. United had 10 corners where Fulham only had 1. The levels of possession really tell the story here. Over the 90 minutes of play, United had 73% of the live ball possession.

The United players went on the attack 83 times during the game. This significantly higher than the 28 attacks undertaken by Fulham. As for attacking events, the numbers are even more lopsided. United recorded 170 attacking events compared to the 34 that Fulham managed.

United even managed to find themselves in good scoring positions on 21 occasions, from which they took 13 shots on goal but they only scored 1 goal from one of these situations. Their other goal came from a shot that was not considered a good scoring chance. Percentage-wise, United only converted 62% of their chances into goals, whereas Fulham, despite having far fewer (4), converted 75% of their chances. The Cottagers, in turn, managed to convert 67% of their shots into goals whereas United, for all their domination, had a meager return of 8%.

The main talking point, of course, was the number of crosses that United sent in and around the Fulham penalty area. Never before in a Premier League game has one team sent in as many crosses as United did. During the course of the game, the United players sent in an incredible 84 crosses. Keeping in mind that the ball was only in play for a total of 66 minutes and 52 seconds, we can see that United were averaging 1.2 crosses every minute. This is in stark contrast with Fulham who managed only 4 crosses all game.

At first glance this statistic looks completely bizarre. This prompted us to cast a look over all crosses in the Premier League this season from all teams and the results were astounding. In the table below you can see the average number of crosses per game sent in (in blue) and the average number of crosses conceded (in red) by each team. The most astonishing fact is that this table does NOT include last night’s game! As it is United lead the way with the number of crosses whereas the team that faces the highest number of crosses per game is none other than Fulham!

Looking at the actual crosses themselves, we saw that only 11 of them came from set pieces with a mammoth 73 coming from open play. The decision to make use of this style of play was clearly based, not only on United’s preference to cross this season, but on the fact that Fulham have faced the highest number of crosses this season than any other team and this could be a weakness in their defensive play. Unfortunately for United, from those crosses, only a mere 21% led to the team finding itself in a good scoring opportunity that led to a threat on goal. This profligacy in front of goal is what cost United the two points that they so desperately need.

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