Manchester United: 2015/2016 Preview

As I have started to gain international visitors to the blog and followers on twitter (@fotbollssiffror), the blog will be in English from now on. Hopefully that won´t scare any of my Swedish readers!


The 2015/2016 Premier League season is just around the corner, and although the transfer window will stay open for another couple of weeks, I thought I´d have a look at what we can expect from ”my” Manchester United given what we observed last season and the activity in the summer transfer window.



Expectations among the fans skyrocketed as Louis van Gaal lead his Dutch national team to a bronze medal in the world cup and followed that up with an inspired pre season that saw United beat the likes of Liverpool, Real Madrid & Valencia. Marquee signings such as Angel Di María and Falcao made fans dream of a return to the good old glory days, but as we now know, United didn´t come anywhere near the Premier League title.

United under van Gaal got off to a really poor start in the Premier League, and the only thing that kept United in the race for the Champions League-spots during the first half of the season was a combination of the magnificient (and probably unsustainable) performances of David de Gea and some very lethal (and probably unsustainable) finishing.

As the season progressed, so did Man United. The second half of the season showed some promise and when United within four games beat Tottenham, Liverpool (away) and local rivals Manchester City, things were looking better than in a long, long time. Unfortunately these wins were followed up by consecutive defeats against Chelsea, Everton and West Brom, so when United finally managed to secure the fourth spot in the table, fans could breathe a sigh of relief. The main goal of the season, to qualify for the Champions League, was achieved.

So, how much better was Manchester United as a team under Louis van Gaal during the 14/15 season than Manchester United under David Moyes in 13/14? When comparing the basic shot numbers, Total shot ratio (TSR) and Shots on target Ratio (SoTR), United under LvG does look like a slightly better team than under Moyes.


The biggest difference can be seen in the Total Shots Ratio (57.3 under LvG vs 53.7 under Moyes), whereas the Shots on Target Ratio, the measure out of the two that has the strongest correlation to points won, remained pretty much the same under LvG (56.4 vs 56.0). The improvement in TSR is entirely down to the fact that United under LvG conceded less shots than under Moyes with 382 shots conceded in 14/15 vs 453 conceded shots in 13/14, a difference of about 1.9 shots per game. On the attacking side, United actually produced slightly fewer shots (513) during van Gaals first season in charge than under Moyes only season in charge (526).

When looking at Uniteds Expected Goals numbers, a measure that not only counts the quantity of shots but also the quality (location, shot type, assist type etc.) over the last two seasons, the 2013/2014 version of Man United lead by David Moyes, somewhat surprisingly, actually comes out on top:


Given David Moyes reputation as a defensively minded coach, it is interesting to note that Uniteds Expected goals tally, both for and against, was higher under Moyes than under LvG, and the expected goal difference signififcantly better under Moyes (+14,7 vs +7,4). Comparing the two seasons, it seems that United in 14/15 was saved by an overperformance of their expected goals difference that was much greater than the overperformance in 13/14. According to my expected goals model (developed together with @stats4footy on Twitter ), United had the fifth highest expected goal difference in 13/14, way behind City, Chelsea and Liverpool, and just behind Arsenal. Uniteds actual goal difference in 13/14 was +21, an overperformance of 6.3 goals compared to the model.

In 14/15, United had the sixth highest expected goal difference, beaten clearly by Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City, Southampton and Liverpool. Their actual goal difference though, was +24, an overperformance of almost 17 goals compared to the models output.


When looking at the entire season of 2014/2015, it does indeed look like United had a fair bit of luck on their side, posting a PDO (% of shots on target for scored+% of shots on target against saved) of 108 that was only bettered by Chelsea as well as the above mentioned overperformance in expected goals. When digging a little deeper, though, it is possible to find some encouraging signs.

As mentioned earlier, United started the season very slowly, but gathered some pace (and points) as the season wore on. When splitting the entire 2014/2015 season into two halves, the progress made is clearly visible. It seems like it took some time for the players to get accustomed to the new reign, but once things fell into place, things improved greatly:



During the first half of the season, United was a mediocre team. The shot ratios (TSR 54.5, SoTR 52.9) were ok at best, and the expected goal difference halfway through the season was actually negative (-1,35). The second half of the season tells a different story. The shot ratios improved drastically (TSR 60.1 and SoTR 60.3), as did the expected goals numbers. As you can tell from the chart above, the expected goals for increased (28.6 vs 23.3) and the expected goals against decreased (19.8 vs 24.7) when comparing the second half of the season with the first. The numbers posted by United in 2015 look a lot more like the numbers of a team that needs to finish in the top 4 and eventually wants to go on and fight for the title.



The major overhaul of the squad that started last season is set to continue as van Gaal and Woodward aim to build a squad that is supposed to challenge for the title, if not this season then next. There´s still four weeks of action left in the transfer window, but let´s have a look at the clubs major transfer dealings thus far (I´m going to go ahead and assume that the Di Marìa to PSG transfer is already a done deal).


Two former world class strikers has left the club. Robin van Persie was offloaded to the turkish league for a small fee and Radamel Falcao left the club following his one year loan spell, as the club decided not to make the deal permanent for a fee of around 40 million pounds. Both van Persie and Falcao are aging and it looks like they have both been in decline for a number of years already. The decision to get rid of RvP:s wages and to not pay a fortune for the services of Falcao is hard to argue.



That said, van Persie and Falcao had by far the highest numbers for expected goals in the entire squad in 14/15. van Persie actually had the highest number for actual non penalty goals per 90 as well, even though he underperformed his expected goals tally, as did Falcao. They are by no means bad strikers, just not as good as they once were, and they definitely need to be replaced somehow.



The biggest loss so far is no doubt be the loss of Angel Di Marìa. Even though Di Marìa is considered to have had a poor season in the red shirt, it´s easy to forget the impact he first had when he arrived, not to mention the fact that he actually produced 10 assists in only 1642 minutes of play. Whether you look at actual assists or expected assists, it is clear that Di Marìa is in a league of his own when it comes to creativity in the United squad.




The overall opinion seems to be that Man United have had a fantastic transfer window so far. Louis van Gaal identified the midfield as an area that needed strengthening, which made Ed Woodward turn to Bayern Munich and Southampton to acquire the services Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin.

In Schweinsteiger, United get a proven top quality midfielder that arguably has his best years behind him. The major concern with Schweinsteiger is his fitness. As this chart from twitter user @behnish shows, Schweinsteiger has only completed more than 60% of the available playing time once in the last four seasons:


Combine that with the fact that players usually tend to decline with age, and the fact that the Premier League with its hectic schedule over the holidays is a very pshysically demanding league, and you have some concern for worry. All in all though, with a relatively modest reported fee of ~20M€ and the wealth of experience and leadership qualities that Schweinsteiger brings to the table, I´m perfectly fine with this transfer.

In Morgan Schneiderlin United gets a player type that they previously did not have. Scheiderlin was among the leaders in the Premier League for tackles per 90 in 14/15, and it is his defensive contribution that he is being bought for. Southampton was one of the most defensively solid teams in the Premier League last season, posting the second lowerst number for expected goals against as well as actual goals against, which in part can be attributed to the midfield duo of Scheiderlin and Victor Wanyama. As Schneiderlins Ted Knutson-inspired radar shows, he did very little in terms of attacking in Southampton, but still put up very solid passing and long boll numbers, something that will definitely please Louis van Gaal, who likes to control the games in terms of possession but also preaches the importance of switching the play from side to side. Schneiderlin is proven in the Premier League, around peak age and brings something new to the club.



As far as defenders goes, most people (myself included) expected United to sign a top class centre defenders. This has proven quite difficult and once the Sergio Ramos-rumours were put to death United haven´t been linked with any big money moves for a proven defender.

One defender, although a wide one, has been added to the squad. The italian full back Matteo Darmian was brought in from Torino and after impressing the fan base as well as the manager in pre season, he looks likely to be given a spot in the starting eleven for the premiere against Tottenham. Judging full backs by on the ball-data can be tricky, but Darmian is very highly rated in Italy and since Rafael never seems to be able to stay fit for very long, an addition was needed to the right full back position. The price tag according to was 18M€ which doesn´t seem too expensive for a proven international in his prime, and given that I´ve barely seen him play at all, I cant elaborate any further. On the surface I think this transfer looks fine as well.


Last but not least, let´s focus on the addition to the attacking part of the squad. Memphis Depay is 21 years old and he completely destroyed the Eredivise last year, scoring 22 goals and providing 5 assists, meaning he contributed directly to 0.95 goals per 90 minutes of play. Depay averaged a whopping 5.7 shots per 90 in 14/15, which is huge. In the Premier League, a much tougher competition of course, Sergio Agüero had the highest amount of shots per 90 with 5.24, ahead of Alexis Sánchez (4.71) and Wilfried Bony (4.56). As far as Man United goes, Angel Di Marìa was the most frequent shooter with 3.34 shots per 90 minutes.

When plotting Depays shots, it´s clear that even though he´s been deployed as a wide forward in PSV, a lot of his shots are coming from prime positions inside the penalty area. He is not only shooting a lot, he is also shooting from dangerous areas.


Depay is still only 21 years old, and the transition from Eredivise to Premier League is a difficult one. Depay clearly has lots of potential, but it is a big ask of him to be the main man in a Man United attack right away. Having been used as a wide forward his entire senior career, Louis van Gaal has opted to deploy Depay centrally behind Wayne Rooney in what looks like a nr 10 role during pre season. Not only is Depay about to play in a much more competitive league, he is about to do so in a position that is brand new to him. It would be completely understandable if Depay would need some time to adjust to the new league and the new position. Over time though, I have high hopes that this will turn out to be a very good transfer for Man United.



Man United was a bit fortunate to finish in the top 4 last season, having put up some mediocre numbers early in the season. The second part of the season was much better, and in line with a club fighting for a top 4 spot. Going into the 15/16 season, the most creative midfielder and the two attackers with the highest expected goals numbers are gone, and are yet to be replaced. Memphis Depay is a very interesting signing, but it is a big ask to replace the likes of Di Marìa, Falcao and van Persie for the young Dutchman. Right now, Wayne Rooney seems to be the nr 1 striker. Rooney is a top class fotballer, but just like van Persie and Falcao, he is probably past his prime, and might not be the kind of striker that it takes to win a league anymore.


The defence that was questioned at many occassions last season look pretty much the same, with the addition of Darmian over Rafael the only significant difference so far. United fans will be hoping that the added competition and competence in the central midfield positions will have a positive impact on the attacking, and that the likes of Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young as well as youngsters Depay, Januzaj and Perreira steps up to deliver more points and create more chances in the abscence of Di MarÍa, Falcao and van Persie. With four more weeks of transfer business to go, I would assume that United will be active in trying to replace at least one of the three big names that have left, with Pedro and Nicolas Gaitan looking like the most likely transfer targets right now. I don´t see how either Arsenal, Chelsea or Man City will fall out of the top 4, but unless new signings are made, Man United very well might as Liverpool posted stronger underlying numbers last season, and have managed to replace Raheem Sterling quite well with the additions of Roberto Firmino, Danny Ings and Christian Benteke.

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