The statistics behind Man Utd turnaround as Red Devils rise from bottom to fifth

·3-min read

Manchester United’s win over Arsenal means they have now responded to their nightmare start with four straight victories.

Erik ten Hag’s side were bottom of the Premier League after being beaten by Brighton and battered by Brentford, but now lie fifth with the mood around the club completely changed.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the statistics behind the Red Devils’ turnaround.

Hope from history

Tottenham's Vedran Corluka reacts as Manchester City players celebrate during their 5-1 win in August 2012
Defeat to Manchester City left Tottenham bottom in August 2012 (Lewis Whyld/PA)

United are only the third side in the Premier League era to lose their first two games and then win their next four.

Arsenal began the 2018-19 season with defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea but then won their next seven games in succession to climb to fourth in the table.

Tottenham were bottom after two games in 2011-12 after losing 3-0 to United and 5-1 at home to Manchester City, but then beat Wolves, Liverpool, Wigan and Arsenal and went 11 unbeaten to recover to third.

The north London pair eventually finished those respective seasons fifth and fourth, with United currently fifth – though the omens from the club’s own history are more positive.

The only previous time they have opened with two defeats was the first Premier League season in 1992-93 – their loss to Brentford this term left them bottom of the table for the first time since.

They drew their third game, against Ipswich, and won the next five as they went on to win the league – their first of back-to-back titles, eight of the first 11 in the Premier League era and 13 under manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Sir Alex Ferguson lifts the 1992-93 Premier League trophy
Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides made a habit of winning trophies despite some slow starts (John Giles/PA)

They had occupied a place in the relegation zone in only two seasons since, and both times ended up enjoying significant success.

In August 1995 they were 19th after an opening-day defeat to Aston Villa, but recovered to win the league and FA Cup double and answer Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen’s claim that “you don’t win anything with kids”. A three-match winless start in August 2007, meanwhile, gave way to a league and Champions League double.

Ten Hag will hope history repeats as he seeks to end the wait for a first league crown since Ferguson’s retirement.

Shot numbers show cause for concern

Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, right, shoots at goal against Manchester United
Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka shoots at goal against United (Martin Rickett/PA)

United’s statistical performances in the games they have won, however, offer less in the way of encouragement.

Their two opening defeats saw them fail to make the most of dominating possession, with almost 63 per cent of the ball against Brighton and 66.7 per cent against Brentford but only one goal to show for it.

Their average possession in their four wins is all the way down to 41.7 per cent, topping 50 only in the 1-0 win over Southampton (51.7 per cent) and, while that could be a sign of Ten Hag finding a more effective approach, there are other concerns.

United have been outshot in all four games, by an average of 15 attempts to 11, including 16-10 by Arsenal and 17-11 by Saints.

They have taken their chances far more effectively, with seven goals from 43 attempts compared to one from 32 in their first two games while their average number of attempts on target has actually improved slightly.

Their defensive activity is also much increased, jumping from an average of 12 tackles and 16 clearances in their two defeats to 17.5 and 26 since.

After only six games of the season, the small sample size limits the ability to draw significant conclusions – time will tell whether Ten Hag has found the right approach or United are simply defying the shot totals in a short-term quirk.