Very often, football statistics tell us nothing useful. The fact that United enjoyed 62% possession against Arsenal last weekend, for example, reveals little about the nature of the match. But, properly presented, the data can sometimes give us some great insights – it’s all about putting things in context.
On Sunday morning (before Arsenal blew us away), Ben Mayhew published some interesting visualisations on his blog, Experimental 3-6-1, looking at how the Premier League’s 20 teams compare in terms of attacking and defensive effectiveness.
The data shows how regularly teams face and take shots, and how well they do and preventing / scoring goals – each team is plotted on a matrix with teams categorised into four different areas.
How Man Utd are Performing in Defence
Only Manchester City had faced fewer shots per match than United when this was published. 9 teams have faced more shots per goals conceded than United, but defensively, United are closest to City, Southampton and Liverpool. Our defensive effectiveness is based on ‘avoiding the issue’ – so far, we’ve been more reliant on depriving the opposition of shooting opportunities rather than depending on De Gea to perform constant heroics.
How Man Utd are Performing in Attack
In attack, United are once again towards the bottom left corner of the graph – this means they don’t take many shots per game compared to the other teams, but they also don’t need many shots to score a goal. This sees United labelled ‘languidly clinical’ – we’re bagging goals with the minimum attacking effort, but then Sunderland occupy a similar position, so it’s not necessarily a great place to be. We’re dangerously close to the red-zone, in stark contrast to City, who are a ‘constant threat’ with an average of over 20 shots per game but not significantly more shots per goal than United.
Critics of United’s unadventurous possession football under Van Gaal will see little to change their views in these statistics.
If you enjoyed this post, check out our article from August looking at Man Utd’s long-term attacking decline.