The biggest result of the Premier League season so far came on the grass that Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United will grace on Saturday night, and it was not in favour of the hosts.
Sheffield United’s 8-0 defeat at home to Newcastle United sent reverberations down the spine of the Premier League table a little under a month ago, as the Blades were completely cut apart.
At their current pace, United would score just 43 league goals this season. That’s less than two relegated sides from last season put up. Granted, it is highly unlikely United remain at this pace. Things will almost certainly pick up, but this goalscoring problem has not just existed this season.
Last season United scored just 58 league goals. Only one other top-four finisher in the last decade of Premier League football has scored under 60, Chelsea also scoring 58 in the 2020/21 season.
It’s a clichéd statement, but goals win you games. Right now Manchester United are not scoring enough goals, nor are they winning enough games.
But, as always in football, opportunity presents itself. If we remove the Newcastle game from the sample, Sheffield United have shipped 14 goals in their seven other Premier League games this season. That’s two goals conceded per game.
Only five of these goals have come at home apart from that game, in four matches, but they have scored just three goals on their own turf this season too. Only Burnley have a worse home record than Paul Heckingbottom’s men, who picked up their sole point this season in a 2-2 draw hosting Everton.
It is an opportunity for United to pad some much-needed goals, developing that ruthless edge that has lacked at times, but it will also provide another opportunity to fix one of the team’s most prominent issues: the away form.
Manchester United at Old Trafford and Manchester United away from Old Trafford have been two different teams entirely under Erik ten Hag. Where last season the home ground was largely restored to the fortress it once was, United seemed to crumble when on different soil (quite literally different soil). Say what you want about the level of the opposition and their form this season, but United have struggled wherever they have gone in recent times.
Bramall Lane is not a quiet ground. The Sheffield United fans are an intense, hostile group who will want United’s players to know that they are there. United need to show that they have learnt the lessons from their many mistakes so far under Ten Hag, and not let the environment get to them.
Marcus Rashford, United’s top scorer last season, has just one Premier League goal this season. Summer signing Rasmus Højlund has yet to open his account in English football too. Both will be ravenously eyeing the opportunity.
The win against Brentford, and its manic nature, has given United life and a real chance to turn around what has been a struggling season. United have key players returning, are facing a far weaker side, and have the chance to rectify two of their most pressing problems from the last year. This game is an opportunity to right some major wrongs, Manchester United must do everything they can to make sure they take it.
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