One thing may have gone unnoticed in recent weeks… Manchester United’s defensive record. They’ve kept seven clean sheets in their past nine games in all competitions – their best run in two years.
This has enabled United to embark on a nine-game unbeaten run, which represents their longest streak without a loss for 12 months. The only goals conceded in this period were David de Gea’s error at Goodison Park last weekend and Emmanuel Dennis’ lob over Sergio Romero for Club Brugge in the Europa League last month.
But United may count themselves fortunate that the opposition are not finishing chances. They have faced 109 shots (29 on target) in their past eight games, yet have conceded only twice. They have actually faced more shots per game in recent weeks than they had earlier in the season.
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Currently, they are conceding only once every 55 shots faced, compared with a goal conceded around every 10 shots in their first 36 games. United have come away unscathed in recent visits to the Etihad in the Carabao Cup and at Stamford Bridge in the league – despite facing 30 shots across these two fixtures.
This season, the Premier League average for shots faced per conceded goal is 9.2, with United’s average being 9.9. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool have the best record, breached only once with every 13.4 shots faced. Chelsea rank bottom with a goal shipped every 6.3 shots faced.
Overall, United are also on par with expected goals against: their xGA is 29.6 and they’ve conceded 30. But a surprising stat is only Paris Saint-Germain have kept more clean sheets in Europe’s top five major leagues in all competitions this term.
United’s tally of 19 clean sheets is two more than Liverpool and four more than Manchester City. Twelve of their 19 shut-outs have come in cup competitions and 11 of these have come since the festive period.
Since Christmas, only Manchester City have faced fewer shots on target, with only Liverpool conceding fewer and keeping more clean sheets.
Going into the festive schedule, United had the joint-fewest clean sheets in the division and only Sheffield United had made more errors leading to goals. De Gea’s blunder last week was his first error leading to a goal since one at Watford on December 22.
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Maguire and Lindelof partnership blooming
Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof’s partnership has also blossomed, but Maguire missed the FA Cup win over Derby with an ankle injury and may not be fit for Sunday.
In the past two months, United have kept eight clean sheets in the 12 games they’ve both started – coinciding with the return of Nemanja Matic to shield their defensive line. This compares with just two clean sheets kept in the 19 games when Maguire and Lindelof started together in the first five months of the season.
Another positive for United is their ability to switch systems, either with a back four or back three. Some of their best results this season have come using three central defenders – including two wins at Stamford Bridge, a Carabao Cup win at the Etihad and a home league draw against Liverpool.
On Sunday, United will be looking to record their third win against City this season, after their 1-0 Carabao Cup semi-final second leg win at the Etihad in January and their 2-1 league win at the Etihad last December.
Overall, United’s results against the top sides have improved drastically when compared with last season. Only Liverpool have taken more points than them this term in head-to-head games between the current top six.
Man Utd vs Man City
March 8, 2020, 4:00pm
No side has conceded fewer goals (five) in these matches or kept more clean sheets (four). A far cry from United’s solitary one win from 10 games against last season’s top six, conceding 18 goals in the process.
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