Devils Digest #2

With no game for United this weekend, we’ve had even more time than usual to reflect on how our season’s going and what the future holds.

I think we can all agree we’ve been shit, but why? Does the shitness have a single underlying cause, or is it a more nuanced, multidimensional malaise? Exactly what brand of shit are we? Were we really that much less shit last season? And will 2014/15 be a new era of unshitified excitement?

These are the big questions of the day. Answering them will probably involve some combination of beer, statistics and existential rage.

So focus your mind’s eye on Mata standing by the touchline, or Phil Jones hoofing a penalty into the stands, or whatever else will sharpen your sense of analytical apoplexy, then pour yourself a drink and settle down for some stats.

I’ve picked out 5 posts this week that dig a bit deeper into the data to help put United’s performance into perspective…

The Tactics Tank: Man Utd v Fulham

Over on Two Hundred Percent, Pete Brooksbank (@impsTALK) offered up a Gonzo-infused take on United’s rebirth as a troupe of tactical simpletons, and Meulensteen’s reimagining of Fulham as a post-war Ferar KMSE tribute act. Perhaps most troubling is Pete’s evidence that Mata has already been “abandoned in a void…a kind of soccer purgatory.”

Basically, Fulham played shit football quite well, and we were just genuinely shit, isolating the one player most capable of undoing Fulham’s 1940s game-plan.

Read the full post here.

Why is United’s new Holy Trinity not working?

Following the dull 0-0 draw with Arsenal, the MEN’s David Lynch (@david_lynch88) took a look at why Man Utd’s triumvirate of Rooney, RVP and Mata isn’t delivering on the pitch like they do in all our dreams.

David’s analysis shows that Mata isn’t actually playing most of his football on the wing – against Arsenal, he was mainly positioned in the centre circle, but when he does roam in-field and creates space for the full-backs to overlap, their crosses have been generally shit.

In terms of link-up between the front 3, they actually exchanged more passes (20) than Sturridge, Suarez and Coutinho (17) when they spanked the Gooners 5-1.

The real issue – the essence of the shitness – is just how deep our three world class forwards are playing. As David argues, “only Rooney arguably possesses the pace to break the line consistently, meaning domination of possession and territory is key. This is something United have largely failed to do due to their problems in midfield, which is having a knock-on effect on the attack.”

So, as we all pretty much new already, getting some top-class central midfielders will be key to our unshitification.

Read the full post here.

Is Tom Cleverley to blame for Manchester United’s poor form?

Seeing as we’re on the subject of midfielders, we might as well talk about Tom. Is he just a scapegoat, or an actual shitgoat? A few people have been trying to answer that question (not necessarily in those words) this week, starting with Amit Singh (@Think_Football).

Amit compares Cleverley with Carrick and Fellaini, looking at stats for the season so far. Clev has higher tackles-per-game and pass accuracy figures than both Michael and Maruaone, but creates less than half as many chances as Carrick (an irrefutably shit 10 chances in 19 games, to be precise).

The stats seem to confirm the conventional wisdom about Cleverley – “his pass accuracy is high but he is not playing enough penetrative, game-changing passes, nor is he scoring enough goals.” But Amit suspects Cleverley is “probably a lot better than this.”

Read the full post here.

Why Man Utd’s Much Criticised Star Shouldn’t Be Written Off

Squawka’s Tom Doyle (@TomJDoyle) chose to interrogate the prevailing Cleverley-is-shit narrative this week, looking at his stats both against Arsenal and for the season as a whole.

Like Fergie, Moyes seems to value Cleverley’s “work rate and tenacity.” At the Emirates, Cleverley won 3 out of 5 tackles, made 4 interceptions, and completed 3 out of 3 clearances, but his pass completion was below his usual standards, at 79%.

Doyle admits that Cleverley “may never become a club great,” but argues that his diligence and work ethic make him a useful option for the rest of this term and beyond.

Read the full post here.

Sterling vs Januzaj: Future Stars’ Stats Comparison

Finally for this week’s Devils Digest, I’ve picked out James Amey’s (@jamesamey316) post for EPL Index, comparing Sterling and Januzaj.

For the season so far, Sterling trumps Januzaj on a number of key stats, with better minutes-per-goal, minutes-per-chance-created, shot accuracy and chance conversion figures. Adnan’s clear-cut-chance conversion is miles better though (100% vs 29%), and his crossing accuracy is a bit better too (21% vs 11%).

Surprising as it may seem to United fans who have been so entertained by Januzaj this season, in terms of overall creativity, Sterling comes out comfortably on top. Sterling also edges it in terms of general pass completion, his defensive contribution is superior, and his attacking play leaves Januzaj with some catching up to do.

Whilst Sterling definitely seems to be making better progress on paper, James acknowledges that the “stats can only show half the story.” Quite correctly, he points out that Januzaj is struggling to sparkle in a sea of shittyness:

“Januzaj has a very bright future in front of him and looks set to turn into a brilliant player, with the Belgian already looking like one of the best players on the pitch when he has played… While Sterling is playing with players such as Coutinho and Suarez who supply him with balls in behind the defence to run onto… Januzaj is given the ball and expected to do something with it.”

As anyone who’s watched Januzaj can see, he has the potential to be a superstar at United. If the tactics improve and the desire to win returns next season, expect his stats to make far better reading. Right now, though, that’s a big ‘if’.

Read the full post here.

What now?

That’s all the statshitstics you’re getting. No more half-arsed wordplay or low-level gratuitous swearing for you. Until next week, why not take a nice big purifying brain-shit in our comments section? You’ll feel better, I promise.