Manchester United return to St James’ Park this weekend just over a year on from their previous away match against Newcastle United.
As in 2019, the trip north comes amid considerable pressure upon manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following a poor start to the season.
Solskjaer was not helped by defeat on Tyneside last term as Matty Longstaff scored the only goal on his Premier League debut.
The United boss will hope for a better return on Saturday, yet his team kicked on following that 1-0 loss to finish third and qualify for the Champions League.
He’s one of our own…
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) October 6, 2019
After losing 6-1 at home to Tottenham before the international break, Solskjaer certainly needs another response.
But the concern is United are no further forward heading to Newcastle this season than they were 12 months ago. Using Opta data, we take a look.
POST-NEWCASTLE UPTICK IN FORM
Longstaff’s goal last October left United 12th after a very ordinary start to the campaign. The Red Devils make the journey north on this occasion languishing in 16 after three games.
Not since December 2013 – another 1-0 Newcastle win courtesy of a Yohan Cabaye goal – have United faced the Magpies while trailing them in the league table, yet Steve Bruce’s side are ninth this time.
It is still very early in the campaign , however, and results alone certainly show progress over the past 12 months.
Before playing Newcastle last year, United had just nine points from seven matches, winning only twice. They averaged 1.3 points per game and won 29 per cent of their matches.
Despite losing at St James’ Park, the next 34 games – including that October match – have brought 60 points (1.8 per game), with United winning exactly half of their Premier League fixtures.
LITTLE CHANGE IN PERFORMANCE
While results improved, there is little in the statistics to say this was due to better performances.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 4, 2020
United have still averaged 14.0 shots per game over the past 34 matches, as they had in the previous seven, and their possession figures have dropped marginally from 56.0 per cent to 55.6 per cent.
Passes in the opposition half have increased from 269.9 per game to 305.7 – aided, surely, by the signing of Bruno Fernandes – but touches in the opposition box are down (26.4 per game to 25.0).
It seems United have simply been more effective at taking their chances, their shot conversion rate crucially rising from 9.2 per cent to 13.1 per cent.
With shots inside the box per game also up slightly from 7.4 to 7.8, their Expected Goals have improved from 1.48 to 1.65, leading to more goals (1.8 per game, up from 1.3) and better results.
DEFENSIVE CONCERNS INCREASING
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, having shipped six to Spurs last time out, but there is one area in which United have clearly deteriorated in the past year: their defence.
With Harry Maguire lacking confidence and the identity of his centre-back partner still the subject of debate, United are conceding more goals (1.2 per game, up from 1.0).
1994-95 – Harry Maguire is the first Manchester United outfielder to start all of their games in a Premier League campaign since Gary Pallister in 1994-95. Captain. pic.twitter.com/tn8O6pp6E1
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 26, 2020
Expected Goals are up from 0.9 to 1.2 and shots faced per game up from 9.4 to 11.1. Things could be even worse for United, too, with their opponents increasingly wasteful – hitting the target with 3.6 shots per game rather than 4.0.
Defeat to Newcastle last season might have sparked United into life, but their problems are mounting and more Longstaff magic this week would really turn up the heat on Solskjaer.
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