Manchester United’s struggle for results continued with defeat to Newcastle on Sunday, increasing the speculation about manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position.
The Norwegian has been unable to sustain the club’s impressive record from his spell as caretaker boss last season, when the team’s win percentage was more than triple what it has been since he was appointed permanently.
However, United’s figures for shots taken and conceded suggest the drop-off in form is not as severe as results would indicate.
Ole’s red-hot start
Solskjaer won his first eight matches in temporary charge, 10 of his first 11 and 14 out of 19 in all before being appointed permanently in March.
From there, things went awry as United won only twice in the remainder of the season before starting the new campaign with three wins in the first 11 games.
The season-opening 4-0 win over Chelsea proved a false dawn and remains the only time this term United have scored more than once in a game – a trend which continued from the end of last season, when they scored seven in 10 games, only netting more than once in the 2-1 wins over Watford and West Ham.
Their raw shot numbers tell a different story, though, with their per-game average actually increasing since Solskjaer was appointed permanently.
In his 19 games as caretaker boss, United had 239 attempts on goal for an average of 12.6 per match – a figure that has risen to 14.2 since his permanent appointment, with 299 in 21 games.
That makes the drop-off in goals scored seem baffling on the surface, though of course not all shots are created equal.
A record of 87 shots on target from those 299 attempts in his time as permanent manager is a significant drop-off from 107 out of 239 as caretaker and could indicate either a poor stretch of finishing or more difficult shots stemming from an inability to break down defences.
Case for the defence
The improvement in shot numbers has been mirrored at the other end of the field, with United facing 227 shots at their goal in his first 19 games and just 223 in the 21 since.
That is an improvement from 11.9 shots allowed per game to 10.6 but again, United have conceded far more goals – 27 against 17.
A run of errors from goalkeeper David De Gea towards the end of last season was one factor, while this season’s matches suggest the defensive side of the equation has improved with just nine goals conceded in 11 games.
Overall, the statistics indicate United greatly over-performed expectations during Solskjaer’s initial run in caretaker charge before under-performing since.
United’s difficulties date back much further than Solskjaer’s appointment, with the club unable to replicate the greatness of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign in the years since.
They have played 342 games in all competitions since his retirement, and the drop-off in their win-loss record compared to the equivalent period at the end of his time in charge is stark.
David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Solskjaer have tried with varying degrees of difficulty to step out of Ferguson’s shadow, with club favourite Ryan Giggs having four games in caretaker charge.
While Van Gaal and Mourinho won silverware with the club, the managers since Ferguson have combined for 184 wins, 78 draws and 80 losses, compared to the Scot’s 231-61-50 record in his final 342 games.
Mourinho fares best, winning 83 of 144 games for a 57.6 per cent win ratio founded on a defence conceding just 0.84 goals per game.
Solskjaer’s 47.5 per cent is the lowest win ratio but the numbers in his caretaker spell – winning 73.7 per cent of games, scoring 2.11 goals per game and conceding 0.89 – stacked up well with latter-day Ferguson’s 67.5 per cent, 2.03 and 0.89.
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