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Man Utd news: Neville is WRONG – Red Devils lucky to be in Champions League contention

Sam McGuire
Erik ten Hag, Man Utd, 2023/24
© IMAGO

Manchester United are going a little under the radar.

The Reds Devils find themselves comfortably clear in sixth place right now, just five points off the top-four after a run of four wins on the bounce in the Premier League. And while it isn’t like Gary Neville to get carried away when speaking about his former side, the Sky Sports pundit is backing them to gatecrash the Champions League places this season.

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He said: “If I was looking at it today, I would probably say, ‘Yes, they’ll sneak into that fifth/fourth place.’ They have got to be consistent and they haven’t been that over this season. But just in the last few weeks, there have been signs that it is starting to happen a little bit.”

On paper, this does appear to be the case. United are unbeaten in 2024, winning six of the seven matches they’ve played across all competitions. Prior to that run, Erik ten Hag’s side had just one win in six.

For further context, they suffered defeats to Bournemouth, West Ham and Nottingham Forest during that period. In fact, it was so bad that many felt as though the Dutch tactician wouldn’t see out the remainder of the season.

Yet here we are, midway through February, and there’s every chance that he’s named as the Premier League’s Manager of the Month.

Everything about the Red Devils right now is reactionary, however. There’s nothing objective in Neville’s analysis when it comes to Man Utd, so he’s overlooking the massive elephant in the room when it comes to their current form.

Simply put, it just isn’t sustainable.

Why Man Utd’s form won’t continue

As pointed out following the win over Luton, the Red Devils have faced 20 or more shots in a Premier League game on eight occasions this term. To highlight how extreme this is, the example being used for contrast purposes is that Liverpool have faced 20 shots in a single game on just two occasions since Jurgen Klopp’s appointment in 2015.

In short, United are giving up an awful lot of chances. In three of their last four matches, the opposition have racked up a minimum of 22 shots. Wolves are the only team who failed to match this, but Gary O’Neil’s side did muster 16 in their 4-3 loss to Man Utd, so it wasn’t as though Ten Hag’s side truly managed to limit their hosts.

If you delve a little deeper into the data, United come out of this looking even worse.

Rasmus Hojlund has scored seven goals in his last six Premier League appearances
© IMAGO – Rasmus Hojlund has scored seven goals in his last six Premier League appearances

The top four hopefuls have allowed Wolves, West Ham, Aston Villa and Luton to have a combined 83 shots (21 per 90) while attempting just 71 shots (18 per 90). The Red Devils have been outshot in all but one of these matches.

The Expected Goal numbers aren’t any better. The opposition have racked up chances worth 7.85 xG, according to most models, but just five goals have been conceded by United during this run. That is a positive swing of almost three goals. Going forward, it is just as favourable for United. They have scored 11 goals from an xG haul of 8.86 – a positive swing of 2.14.

Combine the two and United, overperforming at both ends of the pitch, are up almost five goals on what their performances have warranted. All of this across a four-match span is quite remarkable really.

Sooner or later, things are going to balance themselves out. The last-minute winners will dry up, the ball will stop bouncing their way and the opposition will stop missing chances.

When this happens, Ten Hag, his tactics and Man Utd’s performances will be scrutinised once again. And Neville will likely be claiming the former Ajax man once again needs huge financial backing in the summer window.

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