Home » The improvements Manchester United have made off the ball

The improvements Manchester United have made off the ball

by Darragh Fox

Even the most ardent of fans would find it difficult to describe Manchester United’s start to this season as positive.

Sitting 10th in the Premier League table, with a negative goal difference and four losses, constitutes the worst start to a Premier League campaign for United since the competition’s inception.

Continentally, Erik ten Hag’s men have fared even worse.

United sit bottom of their Champions League group with zero points, having lost both of their opening games.

The defeat to Galatasaray at Old Trafford was a particularly embarrassing loss; the very definition of a self-inflicted wound such were the mistakes made on the night.

Off-the-field, there has been little respite either. United’s protracted takeover saga looks set to continue, despite the prospect of a breakthrough in the last week, while dressing room unrest continues to fester.

Rays of optimism have, therefore, been in short supply in recent months for United fans.

Which is why an analysis of the radical improvements Ten Hag’s side have made in the realm of pressing, in comparison to last season, should provide some relief.

In pre-season, the Dutch manager spoke of his desire to see United become the “best transition team in the world.” This ambition would rely, in large part, on his side’s pressing and counter-pressing abilities.

The players Ten Hag requested from the Old Trafford hierarchy this summer – Andre Onana, Mason Mount and Rasmus Hojlund – are all strong in the transitional side of the game.

Mount and Hojlund are excellent pressers, while Onana’s vertical distribution should help launch quick counter-attacks.

The priority for Ten Hag was, therefore, to see United become dominant on the pitch through their dominance in the press.

As per statistics provided by Sky Sports, United’s pressing capabilities can be broken down into five distinct categories:

  1. Pressed sequences
  2. High turnovers
  3. Possession won in final third
  4. Possession won in middle third
  5. Start distance

Last season, United ranked just above average across all five categories.

  1. Pressed sequences = 14.3 = 8th
  2. High turnovers = 8.6 = 6th
  3. Possession won in final third = 5.4 5th
  4. Possession won in middle third = 24.3 = 8th
  5. Start distance = 42.8m = 6th

This season, however, despite the struggles in terms of results, United have made dramatic improvements in every metric.

  1. Pressed sequences = 16.8 = 2nd
  2. High turnovers = 11.3 = 1st
  3. Possession won in final third = 7.8 = 1st
  4. Possession won in middle third = 25.2 = 2nd
  5. Start distance = 45.2m = 1st

While performances have been largely poor, and results even worse, the fact United are excelling in the exact areas Ten Hag envisioned in the summer offers optimism for an upturn in form.

It feels as if the current struggles are arising primarily from a combination of an unprecedented injury crisis, particularly in defence, and teething issues with this new style.

The extent of the injury list at Old Trafford has grown so severe the club have launched an internal investigation into the matter.

Up to sixteen members of the squad have suffered from injuries this year, with the entirety of Ten Hag’s back four ruled out at one point, as well as many of the first-choice reserves.

United’s issues, resulting heavily from defensive errors and backline fragility, make more sense when considering this context.

The hope would be that as Ten Hag’s side continues to acclimate to this new playing style, and key members of the squad return from injury, the performances should improve in line with the statistics above.

And as the performances improve so too, naturally, should the results.

It’s a rate of improvement Ten Hag will be desperate to see come to fruition with crucial fixtures in both the league and Europe on the horizon.

Neither United nor their manager can afford to squander the improvements made in pressing with a continuation of unimpressive results.

Latest Top Stories...