Football Features

How bad could things get for Man Utd? Putting those Allardyce and Ince warnings in context

By Ben Green

could manchester united be relegated?

Published: 16:05, 18 October 2019 | Updated: 12:39, 20 October 2019

If Manchester United lose to Liverpool this weekend and…

  1. Sheffield United draw with or beat Arsenal
  2. Brighton and Aston Villa draw
  3. Newcastle United beat Chelsea
  4. Southampton beat Wolves
  5. Everton beat West Ham

…then the 20-time English champions will end the 2019/20 season’s matchweek nine in the relegation zone for the first time since after the opening week of the 1995/96 campaign.

Even if the above is all perfectly possible, a lot has to happen, of course. But it’s safe to say times are tough at Old Trafford, a stadium that hosts the league leaders on Sunday having witnessed just two wins and five goals across the five home games to have taken place since their 4-0 opening victory over Chelsea this season.

Combine this with the size of the club and the fact they have scored just twice in their five away games, of which they have won approximately none, then you have all the ingredients for a steaming hot take.

And so last week, Sam Allardyce duly stepped up to the plate by suggesting the record 13-time Premier League champions are in danger of dropping out of the top flight this season if they are not careful.

“They went down [in 1973/74] with a terrific team on paper,” he said.

“So it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that they could catastrophically fall into more problems if confidence goes and injuries stay like they are.”

More recently, but perhaps less sensationally, former midfielder Paul Ince suggested “[United] could finish in the bottom half of the table” this season while speaking with the same broadcaster.

Is everyone – including us, the guys writing this article – overreacting slightly to a table only eight games old? A little bit. Probably. But what would it really take for Man United to suffer the unthinkable? Or even fail to finish in the top 10?

Is United’s situation as bad as their position suggests?

United have made their worst start to a top-flight campaign in 30 years. They have just nine points and two wins from their opening eight Premier League games.

But results don’t actually tell the whole story.

  • Man Utd have attempted 79 shots in the Premier League this season, one fewer than bottom-place Watford (albeit still more than 11 other teams).
  • What shots on goal they’ve managed have been inaccurate.
  • They have the fifth-worst shot conversion rate in the league this season (8.18%), the sixth-worst big chance conversion rate (28.57%) and the seventh-worst shooting accuracy (41.77%).
  • Why? Well, United are uncharacteristically lightweight up front following the departures of both Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku.
  • In fact, the forwards United did retain (Rashford, Martial and Greenwood) have only 66 goals in 244 Premier League appearances collectively (0.27 goals per game average).
  • Against Newcastle, Solskjaer had a whopping nine players absent, including Paul Pogba and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
  • David De Gea has now joined the treatment table after picking up an injury on international duty and will require a “scan”.
  • Liverpool are odds-on to win at Old Trafford this Sunday for the first time in the Premier League era.

However, only four other Premier League teams have allowed opponents fewer shots on goal this season. What’s more, only Sheffield United (7), Leicester City (7) and Liverpool (6) have conceded fewer goals than United this season.

So, United have been bad in attack but not so bad in defence. They have something to build off, but to what extent can a lack of goals compromise a pretty good defence?

What unwanted records would Man Utd *actually* have to break to such negative Premier League precedents?

The average points total for all relegated clubs in Premier League history currently stands at 32, while the average number of wins amounts to seven. The fewest wins United have amassed in a single Premier League season is significantly more than this (19).

In fact, for the Red Devils to even finish outside the Premier League’s top 10 would be unprecedented.

The lowest position in which they have ever concluded a campaign in the competition is seventh, under David Moyes, with another record-low of 64 points.

The average number of points acquired by the 11th-best team across every season since the Premier League switched to its 38-game format is 47.5.

True or not, United have been dubbed the worst team the club has possessed in the competition’s history. But while some might say Solskjaer’s current crop compares unfavourably to the team managed by Moyes, far fewer would seriously suggest they are 16 points worse.

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Financial figures from 2017/18 confirm United have the highest wage bill of any Premier League squad. Mismanagement in terms of both buying and selling players has been far from first-class at Old Trafford, but there is perhaps no team in world football getting worse value for money right now.

Across his 29 Premier League games as a Manchester United manager, the former super sub has averaged 1.7 points (64.6 over 39 games). Then he signed a permanent contract on 28 March and the wheels came off. Since the new contract, his United side has averaged just 1.1 points per game, and their average from this season alone is pretty much the same.

Across 38 games, his overall average would amount to 64.6 points – well above the aforementioned average for relegated teams (although in 2002/03 West Ham were relegated on 42 points), and also above 11th-place average.

So what have we learned? In summation…

  • United would likely have to amass something like 10 wins fewer than their record low (19) within a single Premier League season to go down.
  • They would probably have to be 16.5 points worse than Moyes’ United to finish in the bottom half of the table.
  • Solskjaer has averaged 1.7 points per game as United manager overall.
  • But that has dropped to 1.1 since he was given the job permanently.