Football Features

Why do Manchester United allow their opponents so many chances?

By Will Evans | Twenty3

Published: 15:24, 25 April 2024 | Updated: 16:27, 26 April 2024

Manchester United’s porous rearguard almost saw them come unstuck against Sheffield United.

The Red Devils trailed twice at Old Trafford on Wednesday night before ultimately securing a 4-2 victory, with their defensive record remaining a cause for concern.

United have now conceded 50 goals for just the third time in 32 Premier League campaigns — and they continue to give up chances at an alarming rate.

Here’s why Erik ten Hag’s team allow their opponents so many opportunities.

Errors at the back

An individual error was at fault for Sheffield United’s first goal in midweek, when Andre Onana played a loose pass across the penalty area that was intercepted by Jayden Bogle.

But, perhaps surprisingly, individual mistakes have not been a major cause of the Red Devils’ defensive struggles.

They have only made four errors leading directly to a goal and 10 resulting in a shot or a goal this season, putting them inside the Premier League’s top four teams for both metrics.

Instead, it has tended to be collective deficiencies that have let Ten Hag’s team down.

One common theme is difficulties defending cutbacks into the box — evident again on Wednesday, when Ben Osborn pulled the ball back for Ben Brereton Diaz to score the Blades’ second of the evening.

Shots, shots, shots

There aren’t too many similarities between the Red Devils and struggling Sheffield United this season, but they share a proclivity for conceding plenty of shots.

Remarkably, the Yorkshire outfit (17.94) are the only team in the division to have allowed their opponents more shots per 90 than Ten Hag’s side (17.7).

And things look similarly bleak when it comes to shots conceded from inside the box, with just Luton Town (12.27) and the Blades (12.2) posting worse numbers than United’s 11.74 per 90.

Defensive difficulties

Manchester United’s defensive problems extend throughout the team.

They have struggled to press effectively from the front, while a tendency to overcommit players forward often leaves them exposed in deeper areas.

The lack of a dynamic defensive midfielder means there is little effective cover for such a gung-ho approach, with relatively slow central defenders like Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof ill-equipped to mop up at the back when operating in a high line.

United have the fourth-worst expected goals against per 90 in the Premier League this term (1.84) — and there are few signs of that changing any time soon.