Detailed analysis of the data isn’t required in order to realise that David Moyes’ Manchester United is an inferior vintage to Sir Alex Ferguson’s – of almost any of the past 20 years. But there is illumination in the numbers this season, with Moyes’ outfit failing in comparison to his predecessor’s on almost every key stat. Indeed, the data points to a deterioration in United that is probably systemic – a symptom of the change that Moyes has driven in six months at Old Trafford.
Take the first 15 games of this campaign compared to a similar number of matches from the start of United’s 2012/13 season. Moyes’ outfit is now 14 points worse off than Ferguson’s and has scored just 22 goals compared to 37 under Ferguson after 15 matches. Or to put that in context, United has suffered five league defeats compared to three a year ago, with a goal difference of just plus three compared to 16.
Beneath the surface the numbers fail to show Moyes’ side in a good light either. United’s passing is less accurate, the average length of pass is longer, and the Reds are enjoying less possession in games as a result. Moreover, United’s loss of possession is translating into fewer chances created – just 139 in the first 15 games this season compared to 189 at the same stage of Ferguson’s final campaign as United manager. And when Moyes’ side does create chances the forwards are shooting with a little less accuracy than in the past.
By contrast Moyes’ side is on the back foot more than under Ferguson, with the Reds being forced into 20 per cent more defensive actions – blocks, tackles and clearances – than in the first 15 games of last season. It is no surprise that United has also picked up eight more yellow cards than at this stage last year.
None of this is happy reading, of course, and much of it is the result of Moyes’ tactical desire for United to be a little more direct, channel the ball into wide areas and deliver crosses. Not that delivery from wide areas is accurate this year, while United leads the league in “crosses from deep.” Or in other words aimless balls punted into the box.
Put simply, United is passing the ball longer, with less accuracy, creating fewer chances and the team’s shooting is not quite as sharp. The result is fewer goals and points secured. Never a recipe for success.
It is, some might argue, an old school philosophy in a very modern age, perhaps summarised in a very simple data point: the number of long balls United now plays has increased from 10 per cent under Ferguson to 12 per cent with Moyes in charge. Only Arsenal and Manchester City played fewer long balls than United last season; Moyes’ outfit is now distinctly in the middle of this table now.
The numbers don’t look pretty for individuals in United’s squad either, bar perhaps Wayne Rooney. Rooney has scored eight in 13 Premier League appearances to date this season, or 0.61 per game. The Scouser scored at 0.44 goals per game last season.
Meanwhile, the former Evertonian has created 2.15 chances per game this season, compared to 1.8 last season and provided seven assists in the league compared to 10 over the entire league campaign last year.
Robin van Persie, by contrast, has been marginally less effective in an injury-hit season. The Dutchman is scoring at 0.63 goals per Premier League game, compared to 0.68 last season, and has two assists, compared to eight in the full campaign last season.
Elsewhere, especially in midfield, Moyes side has struggled this season. Michael Carrick is passing a touch less this season at 77 per game, but with less accuracy as well. Tom Cleverley and Marouanne Fellaini barely average 50 passes per game. Little wonder United’s possession is down and the side is creating far fewer chances.
Defensively, the key metrics for Nemanja Vidić, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Chris Smalling and David de Gea are down.
The data leads to an obvious question: whether Moyes’ start is symptomatic of a failing strategy, or simply a “transitional period” in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era. After all, Moyes start to life at United has been tougher than anybody expected, with the Reds losing five of 15 matches in the Premier League to date.
Play the season forward from here and United’s 22 points will translate into just 56 by the season’s end – leaving the Reds somewhere around eighth and out of the European places altogether. While United’s campaign is unlikely to be that cataclysmic the numbers surely contradict Moyes’ claim that the Reds can still win the Premier League this season.
In a competitive league it might take less than the 89 points that secured the Premier League over the past two seasons. But should, say, 82 secure the title come May, United will still need to record 19 wins, two draws and just two defeats before the campaign’s end.
In fact fourth place and a Champions League spot might be a significant achievement from this point. It might require nearly 50 further points from Moyes’ side, or 16 wins, four draws, and two further loses. Even in the most optimistic scenario only twice over the past decade has it taken less than 68 points to secure fourth – each time coming with a runaway league winner. In other words, it is likely that United will need to win 15 or more games from the next 23 simply to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Failure to make the Champions League is, of course, a doomsday scenario for Moyes. One that will test the owners’ resolve to stick with the Scot through his full six-year contract. After all, while most supporters agree that Moyes deserves time, he is unlikely to match the time proffered to Ferguson between 1986 and 1993 before the league title returned to Old Trafford.
After all, Ferguson took charge of an under-achieving squad that hadn’t secured the league in two decades. Moyes, with more than a decade in the Premier League, secured the job as manager of England’s champion club. It is also a club that boasts the third highest revenue of any club on the planet, and for whom failure is inconceivable.
Data: Squawka, EPLIndex, Whoscored, Statto