Manchester United’s Premier League campaign was an exhibition of dysfunction.
It was one that cost manager Jose Mourinho his job in December, plus the club their spot in the Champions League when they descended from runners-up in 2017/18 to a dispiriting sixth.
But why exactly did the Red Devils slip so much in 2018/19? Here’s a post-mortem into three key causes, using statistics from WhoScored.com, understat.com and PremierLeague.com (unless otherwise stated):
MORE MONEY, SAME PROBLEMS
Mourinho was mocked in August for stating “It is difficult to believe that we finished second” and “last season was one of my biggest achievements in the game”.
This ridicule would soon make way to reality as United endured their worst start in 28 years, prior to the Portuguese’s rancorous exit.
His tactical and motivational faults are noteworthy. But so too is the ruinous impact that a lack of funding from the board had.
An estimated spend of £67.5 million throughout 2018/19 on Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred, Porto prospect Diogo Dalot and Stoke City’s back-up goalkeeper Lee Grant represented 11.7 per cent of their £578.5m revenue contained in the 2017/18 Deloitte Football Money League. Within the top 10 of this list, only Bayern Munich (3.1 per cent) and Tottenham Hotspur (0 per cent) were more miserly.
The comparison to Liverpool is stark. They, ambitiously, went from fourth to second when lavishing £160.8m on the likes of Roma No1 Alisson and RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita, with this figure representing 36 per cent of revenue.
United’s invisible senior recruits, also, averaged just 11 Premier League run-outs. This was the least inside the top six – excluding non-spending Spurs – and still considerably less than Chelsea’s 19.8, even though two of Chelsea’s six inductees throughout the campaign were reserve shot-stopper Robert Green plus United States winger Christian Pulisic who was loaned straight back to Borussia Dortmund in January.
Oh, for a director of football…
My first season here, although it has not been the season that this club deserves I’m thankful for the way that you have taken me in at @ManUtd ! We must give you more in the future and better than this season has shown.#MUFC pic.twitter.com/gk07PIRD60— Diogo Dalot (@DalotDiogo) May 13, 2019
NO CASE FOR THE DEFENCE
Whether under Mourinho or – now permanent – successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United’s defending has been laughably bad.
A shameful concession of 54 goals in 38 top-flight matches was their highest return in 40 years. Their ongoing run of 15 matches, in all competitions, without a clean sheet has not been witnessed since 1970.
Such a precipitous decline should be a surprise after they let in just 28 Premier League goals in 2017/18 – only runaway champions Manchester City were better.
Discerning viewers and Mourinho, however, foretold impending disaster.
United’s xGA (expected goals against) was +15.5 in 2017/18, meaning they should have let in 44 goals. Only seventh-placed Burnley (+13.2) also got into double figures in that edition.
A smaller discrepancy of -1.7 (52.3 xGA/54 goals actually conceded) was notched in 2018/19.
Contrasting form for Spain goalkeeper David de Gea is a major cause. Rare fallibility saw him make four errors leading to goals last season in the Premier League.
This was double the two recorded in his trying debut campaign of 2011/12 and four more than a flawless 2018/19.
The 28-year-old can, legitimately, point to a lack of protection that necessitated a career-high 122 saves. This was the fourth most in 2018/19.
In 2016/17, he produced only 74.
Blame can be attached, of course, to outfield players. Champions Manchester City averaged, per top-flight game, 64-per-cent possession and 9.5 interceptions, while lethargic United had much less of the ball (53.3 per cent) and still made fewer interceptions (9.3).
Contract renewals for calamity centre-backs Phil Jones and Chris Smalling make them easy targets. But the defensive rot has set in far deeper than a suspect rearguard.
2 - Manchester United have only kept two home clean sheets in the Premier League this season, their fewest at Old Trafford in a top-flight campaign since 1962-63. Leaky.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 12, 2019
United were the fourth-highest goal scorers in 2018/19, meaning you’d expect this area of the park to provide some of their smallest worries.
This would be a generous viewing, however, of the numbers.
Their tally of 65 goals in 38 matches was 30 less than City and 24 fewer than Liverpool.
Their xG (expected goals) stood at 68.6, creating a negative differential of +3.6. This was comfortably the worst from the Premier League’s top six, with only third-placed Chelsea’s +1 comparable.
United and fifth-placed Arsenal were the only clubs with two players in the Premier League’s top-10 for big chances missed.
Joint Golden Boot winner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette wasted 23 and 13. For United, Marcus Rashford spurned 16 and Romelu Lukaku 15.
But Arsenal’s duo still managed to notch 35 times, in contrast to the United strikers’ lesser 22.
A whopping 42.7 per cent of United’s Premier League attempts on goal were off target. This was comfortably the highest in the top six, with Liverpool next on 39.5 per cent.
Quality of opportunity is another issue.
From the top six, only Chelsea had fewer attempts as a percentage from inside the six-yard box than United (6 per cent/8 per cent), while United’s 51 per cent of attempts being from inside the 18-yard box was the 16th worst in the Premier League and six-per-cent inferior to City’s 57 per cent.
United’s average of 10.1 key passes per top-flight match was only good enough for the joint-fifth best with Leicester. It was also 3.5 fewer than leaders City and 1.1 less than Liverpool.
Defence and midfield are oft highlighted when debating United’s summer business. It would be remiss, however, of legendary ex-striker Solskjaer to ignore the area of the pitch he knows so well.
Tough period for us at the moment and as a United fan myself I understand how you’re feeling. We’ve shown how we can play, we need to get back to doing what we know we can do! @ManUtd— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) April 25, 2019
Wayne Rooney believes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching team need to strike fear into those Manchester United players that have shown they are happy to hide.
After enjoying a remarkable caretaker stint when replacing divisive Jose Mourinho late last year, things have gone awry in the last few months under the 1999 treble hero.
United won just two of their 10 matches following Solskjaer’s permanent appointment in March and the drop in performances have been as alarming as the results, with the 2-0 home loss to Cardiff a fitting end to the season.
There are set to be numerous personnel changes at Old Trafford this summer but the club’s all-time top scorer believes the issues run deeper than that.
A veteran of the Sir Alex Ferguson era, Rooney believes Solskjaer needs to strike the balance between fear and respect to get the best out of the group.
“It’s a tough one because to watch Manchester United struggle is always tough,” the DC United forward said.
“When Ole came in, he did a fantastic job and you could see the players were given that bit of freedom and you could see they loved it and they earned the right to win game with how they were playing.
“But then all of a sudden, I don’t know whether it’s players being linked to other teams or players down tooling… I don’t think it is that but for some reason they just didn’t perform the last seven, eight games of the season, which has cost them.”
Asked how United change it, Rooney said: “I think the players need to fear someone.
“They need to fear Ole Gunnar, they need to fear Michael Carrick – they need to respect them but fear them also.”
Rooney knows more than most what it takes to flourish at United, having scored 253 goals across 559 appearances during a medal-laden stay between 2004 and 2017.
A team-mate of manager Solskjaer and first-team coach Carrick during that time, he was also in the dressing room with a number of the current crop and believes there is not enough accountability on the field or away from it.
“The way the game has gone has changed; the society has changed,” he said on the Wayne Rooney Podcast.
“You’ve got social media. You’ve got players losing a game and then posting something on social media about their new clothing range or aftershave, whatever, they are bringing out, which I find remarkable.
“So, when fans speak up on it and say, ‘why are you posting that?’ they always have the marketing people to blame. Take responsibility. They work for you. Them marketing people work for you.
“I have people who do similar stuff for me and they would never do anything without my instructions.
“If that’s what you’re doing, you’re sitting at the top of that business, you have to take responsibility for that.
“These players almost like to find someone to hide behind, whether that’s on the social media or on the pitch and that’s what they’re doing.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
David Beckham spoke to OTRO on his relationship with former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
The former England captain recounted an occasion when he was instructed just before a game to shave off his new daring hairstyle.
Beckham admitted Ferguson success came because ‘he was always able to change’.
Ferguson was appointed as United manager in November 1986 and stayed in charge until 2013, winning a total of 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League titles.
He is considered one of the greatest coaches of all time.