Photo Credit: ITV.com
Manchester United conceded 54 Premier League goals last season. In comparison, the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool picked the ball out of their net on 23 and 22 occasions respectively. More worryingly, we also conceded more goals than Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Newcastle, with the latter five clubs finishing below United in the table. Sir Alex Ferguson once said “attack wins games, defence wins titles” and it is clear that if our defending continues down this route, we will not be near a Premier League title for the foreseeable future.
The aim of this article is to present the findings having analysed every single goal Manchester United conceded in all competitions in 2018/19 and to see what conclusions can be drawn. The procedure of data collection involved watching every goal conceded and putting a tally next to the United player who I believed was most responsible for the goal, be it via obvious mistake, poor marking or lack of communication etc. On a number of occasions, either a few players were tallied for the same goal or no players were tallied and instead the goal was recorded as ‘lucky’ or as a result of ‘opposition brilliance’. Once every goal had been analysed, in order to factor minutes played into the equation, ‘mins per mistake leading to goal’ was calculated by dividing minutes played by a specific player by the number of mistakes leading to a goal conceded.
Let’s take a look at the findings…
Mistakes Leading to Goal Conceded
Smalling – 11
Young, Shaw – 9
Opposition Brilliance – 6
Jones, Matic, Lindelof – 5
De Gea, Bailly – 4
Rojo, Fred, Herrera, Lucky – 3
Pogba, Dalot, McTominay – 2
Darmian, Fellaini, Mata, Rashford, Pereira – 1
Minutes per Mistake Leading to Goal Conceded
Fellaini and Herrera have been excluded from this metric as they have already left the club. Mata, Pogba, Rashford and Pereira have also been excluded as they are attacking players who either hardly contributed to the goals conceded or played so many minutes that their score was significantly better than others. Instead, the following results will focus on our defence and defensive midfielders. The following list is ranked from ‘worst to best’ meaning the players at the top end of the list make mistakes resulting in a goal being conceded more regularly than those at the bottom of the list.
Rojo – 118 mins
Smalling – 275 mins
Bailly – 280 mins
Jones – 342 mins
Young – 389 mins
Shaw – 398 mins
Fred – 531 mins
Darmian – 533 mins
McTominay – 612 mins
Matic – 667 mins
Lindelof – 700 mins
Dalot – 847 mins
De Gea – 1,057 mins
Firstly, congratulations to Marcos Rojo for claiming the coveted award of ‘most error prone’ Manchester United player. In all seriousness, these findings support the feeling that most United fans already had, that Rojo simply is not a Manchester United quality player, not even as a substitute. Clearly he is not a squad defender that can be relied upon when needed and in fact, my subsequent job after this is helping him move his belongings out and booking him on the next flight out of Manchester.
It is not surprising to see the centre-backs dominate the top of the list as they are positioned in an area of the pitch that is likely to result in the most mistakes leading to goals. However, what is noticeable from the ranking is that Jones actually makes a mistake leading to a goal less frequently than both Smalling and Bailly. What does significantly stick out to me are the statistics of both Young and Shaw. Both full-backs made the joint second most amount of mistakes resulting in goals and even with their large quantity of game time factored in, they still come out with a worse record than all of our defensive midfielders, Lindelof, Dalot, Darmian and De Gea. To see Young so high up the list even though he is not a centre-back will not surprise anyone, but hopefully the signing of Aaron Wan-Bissaka will rectify this problem in the long-term. However, what may surprise some is that Luke Shaw has an almost identical record to Young, with the same number of mistakes as well as only a 9 minute difference in ‘mins per mistake leading to goal conceded’. I hate to say it, but I do not think Shaw is all that some people make him out to be and the fact he managed to win our Player of the Season award perfectly demonstrates how bad last season was. When I watched all of the goals back, I was surprised how often Shaw lost his man and was punished for doing so. He has played some fantastic matches for United and I have the utmost respect for him, but if we are being completely honest, based on this evidence, he probably is not a title-winning quality left-back currently.
The biggest positives that can be drawn from these findings are the results for both Lindelof and De Gea. The Swedish centre-back was identified by many United fans as one of only a few positives from a defensive perspective last season and the findings back this up. Despite being a centre-back and playing 3,502 minutes, Lindelof had a better ‘mins per mistake leading to goal’ than Matic, McTominay, Fred, Darmian, Shaw, Young and all of the other centre-backs. This is a promising sign if we are able to sign an experienced centre-back this summer to play alongside him in addition to the signing of Wan-Bissaka.
De Gea came under a lot of scrutiny in the second half of the season after a number of significant mistakes that directly resulted in goals, notably against Barcelona, Chelsea and Arsenal. Many people decided that this was enough for him to now be labelled as “past his best” whilst the keyboard warriors came out of hiding to laugh at his expense. In reality, De Gea made 4 errors leading to goals this season, giving him the best ‘mins per mistake leading to goal’ result out of all of the players in the list. De Gea single-handedly keeps Manchester United in matches on a regular basis and over the last number of seasons he has undoubtedly facilitated higher Premier League finishes than what the overall team performances ultimately deserved. He is one of those players that has enough credit in the bank to get away with a few mistakes and the people who were straight on the keyboard to criticise him clearly suffer from selective amnesia.