United they fall - where has it all gone wrong for Mourinho's side?

Manchester United finished second in 2017-18, yet languishes in eighth through 15 games this season. So, what's changed from a year ago?

Mourinho's issues at Manchester United are less to do with a lack of incomings and more about a failure to be so ruthless at both ends of the pitch.   -  Getty Images

Wednesday's 2-2 draw against Arsenal extended Manchester United's winless Premier League run to four games. At a rain-soaked Old Trafford, the gloomy forecast continued for a club used to success. 

Next up, Jose Mourinho's men host Fulham. It should be a home banker, yet not even the arrival of the side propping up the rest in the table is a certain three points these days. 

United has drawn in front of its own fans against Wolves and more recently Crystal Palace this term, results that have helped leave last season's second-placed finisher well off the pace and facing a battle just to make the top four. 

So, where has it gone wrong for Jose and his players? With a helping hand from Opta, we analyse their performances through the first 15 games of this season compared to the stats from the same stage of the 2017-18 campaign.

– A LOUSY CASE FOR THE DEFENCE –

At this point in the previous season, United had conceded nine goals. This time around? 25. Twenty. Five.

Oddly, though, the numbers do not suggest it is necessarily down to volume of attempts it has had to deal with. It has faced 191 shots (74 on target) compared to 182 (64) last season.

The more dramatic change comes in terms of save percentage. David de Gea has failed to meet his usually lofty standards after returning from a difficult World Cup with Spain.

The goalkeeper – who won the Premier League's Golden Glove in 2017-18 after keeping 18 clean sheets – has saved 67.1 per cent of the shots that have come his way, dramatically lower than his 85.9 rate from 12 months ago. 

On December 2, 2017, De Gea was superb against the Gunners at Emirates Stadium, producing a series of stunning stops as he helped secure a 3-1 triumph. In stark contrast on Wednesday, he allowed Shkodran Mustafi’s header to evade his grasp, gifting Arsenal the lead. How both his and United's fortunes have changed in the space of a year.

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David De Gea looks disappointed after conceding against Southampton.   -  Getty Images

 

– CLINICAL EDGE LACKING UP TOP –

It is not just at the back where standards have dropped. United has scored 24 goals so far, 11 fewer than it had managed through 15 games a year ago.

The possession stats are remarkably similar (53.6 per cent, a slight increase from 53) as is its mark for passing accuracy (82.2 per cent in 2018-19, compared to 82.5 per cent for 2017-18). 

It has managed 21 fewer shots (190 versus 211) but has managed more on target (89 this season, 77 last). The clinical edge is missing in front of goal, however, as recognised by its conversion rate dropping to 12.6 per cent, down from 16.6 per cent. It is not about creating chances but taking them, particularly as goals can help mask problems in stopping the opposition scoring.

Romelu Lukaku, who has registered five league goals this term, was left out against the Gunners in midweek. So too was Paul Pogba, one of only four players to manage more than one in the competition in 2018-19.

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Lukaku reacts after missing a chance to give Manchester United the lead against Crystal Palace.   -  Getty Images

– SAME FACES, AVAILABLE PLACES –

Mourinho will perhaps point to two main factors for the Red Devils falling behind the other leading contenders in England: A lack of activity in the last transfer window and injury problems hampering his squad. 

The two are not necessarily intertwined, but the Portuguese made clear his desire to add a centre-back to his squad. The defensive deficiencies highlighted by the Opta data suggest he had a point about the need to strengthen, while he has struggled to pick a settled pair at the heart of the backline due to players being sidelined.

Marcos Rojo made his first appearance of the campaign against Arsenal but the constant changing of personnel – not to mention formation, as they switch from a three-man defence to four at the back – has not helped, particularly with De Gea failing to hit the same heights.

 

Yet United did spend heavily to sign Fred – the Brazilian midfielder was not in the matchday squad in midweek – and have the kind of depth other top-flight teams can only dream about. The numbers suggest the issues are less to do with a lack of incomings and more about a failure to be so ruthless at both ends of the pitch. 

The arrival of Fulham, which has shipped a league-leading 36 goals, could help lift spirits and kick-start a surge up the table during a busy festive period. On the other hand, three points may do nothing more than paper over the cracks in a season that faltered from the outset.

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