PAUL TISDALE: Manchester United are losing their way

PAUL TISDALE: Manchester United are losing their way… Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team take too many long shots and can’t break down stubborn defences at home – unlike City and the rest of their rivals

  • A third of Manchester United’s shot this season have come from outside the box 
  • Fortunately for Manchester United they are equipped to score on the counter 
  • So far this season Leicester have led the way with ‘total football’ in the league
  • Chelsea’s good start is driven with goals scored after collecting loose balls
  • Everton have topped the charts with goals directly from set-plays 

A player receives the ball 25 yards from goal. His team needs a goal. A packed defence guards the penalty box. He has time to consider the options. The crowd shout: ‘Shoot!’

As a coach sat on the bench, you’re thinking: ‘Don’t shoot!’ And the data backs the coach.

There have been about 1,500 attempts at goal this Premier League season already. Almost 250 goals have been scored using a variety of techniques and tactical moves.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side particularly struggle to break down stubborn defences at home

There are times when Manchester United look devoid of ideas or alternative approaches

The conversion rate is 17 per cent. About one in every six shots results in a goal.

There are numerous methods to score a goal; from set plays, to intricate passing patterns, crossing or counter attacks.

By drilling into the data, it is possible to see which route to goal carries the highest goal threat. And shot from outside the penalty area is the least effective.

A long-range shot at goal is the most frequently used method when attempting to score.

Roughly 20 per cent of all shots taken in the Premier League are from distance. However, it has the poorest conversion ratio by far. It takes 20 long shots for every goal scored.

In contrast, all other methods have achieved a ratio of one goal in every 5.5 attempts at goal.

There is a perverse logic that encourages the players to shoot when the stats are stacked so highly against a successful outcome. This season Manchester United are guilty of that logic more than any other.

United have shot from distance more than any other team (Fulham are a close second). In fact one third of all United’s shots have been taken from outside the box. Yet they haven’t scored from one!

Manchester United have taken more shots from outside the box than any other team

This trend often occurs when there is an anxiety. A team so desperate to score that it shoots at first sight, not willing to patiently pass and move in case a better opening never materialises.

Sometimes the team just run out of ideas, devoid of alternatives. Or worryingly, the team simply lack direction.

Left to their own devices without an established understanding of its best method, the team will invariably make poor decisions.

Without a strategy to ‘break down’ a well-organised defence, a team will be easily stifled. United will remain two dimensional in attack unless they can find an established route to goal at Old Trafford.

Fortunately for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, his team are well equipped to score counter-attack goals.

Away matches have provided space to exploit. The opposition’s advanced position has given United’s front line ample opportunity to score. However, playing at home is another matter. They need to find a route to goal when the opponents park the bus.

In other teams, through all their ups and down, you can see clearly what their main strategies are. Here are the key ‘routes to goal’:

PASS AND PROBE 

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have made 36 per cent of all their attacks in this way, very much like Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

So far, Leicester City have lead the way with ‘total football’ — scoring almost double any other team with this type of total football.

Brendan Rogers is arguably the league’s best ‘process coach’. It requires serious amounts of coaching and players willing to apply the coach’s pattern. For this, you need midfielders like Juan Mata and Donny van de Beek to combine with Bruno Fernandes in small areas.

Brendan Rodgers at Leicester is arguably the Premier League’s best ‘process coach’ of all

IN THE MIXER

Attack the cross with numbers in the box. You need players willing to make committed runs before the ball is delivered and have a desire to meet the cross with their head.

West Ham’s resurgence has been driven by this method. David Moyes made his mark at Everton with a strong crossing as his route to goal. He knows his plan.

During Jose Mourinho’s tenure at United, he was derided at times for relying on Marouane Fellaini late in games to force an aerial attack. In the same way he utilised Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Mourinho knows the value of a secondary route to goal, even if it upsets purists.

REACT FASTEST 

Anticipate sharply following a pass to the front. React quicker than the defenders with supporting numbers.

Chelsea’s good start is driven by with goals scored after collecting loose balls in and around the box. It’s a state of mind — ‘if you play brightly, you react brightly’.

This makes Chelsea more than just a passing team. Solskjaer must ask himself which players possess the instinct to think one second ahead of the opposition. Mostly unnoticed by the majority of supporters, the intelligent player who moves quickly off the ball in anticipation.

Chelsea have become effective at collecting loose balls in and around the box to lead to goals

SET PLAYS 

Sometimes it needs a goal from a corner or free-kick to break the deadlock.

Accumulating pressure from continual attacking phases will produce a constant flow of set plays. The importance of a well-worked set-piece routine shouldn’t be overlooked. Last season, Virgil van Dijk provided timely goals for Liverpool when other means of scoring were failing.

This season Everton have topped the charts with set-play goals (not including direct free-kicks).

It’s one of the reasons for their early success under their highly experienced coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Everton have been deadly on set-pieces partly helped by striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin

It takes time and application on the training ground.

All teams are capable of improving their return from set plays but it’s certainly not a preferred process for players.

It relies on what is effectively a sales pitch by the manager.

A tough ask when star players just don’t see the need. The manager must have real personality and conviction to make this happen.

MIX IT UP 

The all-round game to keep the opponents guessing. By having numerous attacking methods, the opposition cannot easily find an effective defensive block.

Liverpool and Tottenham have produced the best stats in this regard, equally effective on the counter as they are in attacking phases of play.

Title winners tend to score with diverse routes to goal. 

Teams with good coaches develop a trademark route to goal. A clear identity. The very best are able to hurt you even if you find a way to stop their usual path. That is what often separates the good from the title contenders. Here’s how the top clubs break their opponents down. 

Tottenham 

Tottenham’s data is of a team with a plan and a purpose. They can break down a tight defence, such as Gareth Bale’s headed winner against Brighton, or they can hit you on the break. 

Spurs’ fourth goal against Southampton, scored by Heung-min Son, is the perfect counter-attack goal. 

They have a strong conversion rate too. Like Liverpool, they have a balanced scorecard. Coaching at its best.

Manchester United

They are a real threat on the break and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should concentrate on creating more counter-attack opportunities.

Just look at Bruno Fernandes’ goal to give United the lead against Newcastle.

Alas, most of their attempts remain from a slow, patterned attack and then a hopeful shot from distance. This is not good enough for Manchester United.

Chelsea

Despite being a ‘passing team’, Chelsea have shown they are more than just pretty  football. 

Just look at how theywon their first penalty against Crystal Palace. Ben Chilwell hits a diagonal ball and four Chelsea players pounce on a loose ball to win a penalty. 

A speed of reaction and a hunger to get into the danger area to score goals. Arsenal take note.

Liverpool

They can hit you with goals from both instant and coached attack. Their most notable style is typified by Mo Salah’s goal against Everton. 

A pass into the front three, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino exchange passes and eventually Salah shows lightning reactions to smash in a loose ball.

With an injury crisis in defence, Liverpool’s best bet may be to ‘outgun’

Leeds 

Quick, fluid football. As you might expect from a Marcelo Bielsa side, Leeds are one of the most attacking teams in a coached phase. 

Much of this is due to the speed they move through the middle third. Jack Harrison’s goal against Liverpool on the opening day was a sign of things to come. Build up play at the back, fire through the midfield and go for goal. 

No turning back. Turn forward, pass forward, run forward – the Leeds Way!

Manchester City 

City are yet to achieve the dominance in their coached phases that we expect of them under Pep Guardiola. 

They are a little too reliant on long-range shots but don’t write them off just yet. Just look at their goal against Liverpool. 

Kevin De Bruyne completed a 19-pass move with a pass into Gabriel Jesus’s feet, who produced a superb turn and finish. Expect more goals like this.

Arsenal

Pass and probe football. Both of Arsenal’s goals against Sheffield United are great examples of ‘total football’ under Mikel Arteta.

The Arsenal Way is clear but they are just not happening often enough. Their attempts on goal are woefully short on frequency. 

Perfect goals are great but you need ‘easy’ ones every now and then. A quantum shift is needed.

Paul Tisdale is a Football League manager who developed his own data filing programme: www.paultisdale.co.uk 




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