After a 37-shot performance against Burnley on Saturday, Manchester United have averaged 16.8 shots per game in league and European competition, ninth-most in Europe’s top five leagues. Despite the high volume of shots, the Red Devils average only 1.36 goals a game, ranking 46th of 98 teams among those top leagues.
So is it because they have been bad or unlucky? It turns out to be a little bit of both.
Man United have been one of the more inefficient teams in Europe with its shots. To wit, United rank 81st in on-target percentage, 76th in conversion percentage and eighth in percentage of shots blocked
The player most responsible for this has been club-record signing Paul Pogba. The France international is second on the team, behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with 40 shots taken in league and European competition. However, Pogba has not done much with those shots.
Among the 173 players in those competitions to take at least 20 shots, Pogba is tied for 153rd in on-target percentage (10 of his 40 shots). One of the problems is that Pogba is not getting into the box. A total of 29 of his 40 shots have come outside the penalty area, second-most among those players (Christian Eriksen has one more, with 30).
But here is where the Red Devils are unlucky. United attempt 36.9 passes into the penalty area a game, bested only by Bayern Munich (41.7), Inter Milan (37.8) and Arsenal (37.7) in Europe’s top leagues. In addition, they are averaging 12.3 chances created per game, ranking eighth in Europe.
So United have created chances and carved out good positions in the attacking third, only to let themselves down with the final shot.
Which brings us to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede is third in shots taken among the top-five leagues with 66, behind Cristiano Ronaldo (75) and Edin Dzeko (67). Ibrahimovic is tied for sixth in touches in the penalty area with 93, behind Luis Suarez (second), Robert Lewandowski (third) and Neymar (fifth).
However, for all those touches, Ibra has scored only five goals. A look into his expected goals value from his 65 shots shows he should have scored 8.8 goals, giving him a “goals below value” mark of -3.8, second-worst in Europe behind Lewandowski (-4.2).
And it’s inside the penalty area where Ibra’s woes are most evident. The Swede has converted four of 15 shots on target in the box in all competitions, a percentage of 26.7, in addition to hitting the target 36.6 percent of the time. In his four seasons at PSG, his on-target percentage never dipped below 50 and his conversion percentage never dipped below 40 in the area.
So the question is, can manager Jose Mourinho’s team turn it around? They have a golden chance on Sunday against Swansea City in the Premier League. Swans have allowed 18 goals this season, fourth-most in the Premier League. United fans hope Ibra comes around on conversions and Pogba gets in better shooting positions. Ultimately, though, it is up to Mourinho to help his team figure the puzzle out.
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