Manchester United might not yet be in free fall, but they’re out of the jet, and the parachute isn’t deployed.
Over the weekend, they lost to Bournemouth at home in Old Trafford, which had never happened. Bournemouth had only beaten United twice at home before their 3-0 trashing, sending many supporters to the exits early on a rainy evening in Manchester.
At midweek, they failed to put up a fight against Bayern Munich in their final Champions League group game, losing 1-0 to the Germans and crashing themselves out of European competition. The Red Devils only managed to put a single shot of their five taken on-frame, generating just 0.24 expected goals in the process.
Next up, they’re facing the Premier League leaders, Liverpool, away at Anfield, as they look to shake off the demons of their last visit to Merseyside last season when Liverpool thrashed them 7-0.
Manchester United will look to right their season against their most hated enemies but will do so without their captain, Bruno Fernandes, who will miss the game due to suspension for accumulating yellow cards.
Comparing the two squads, United fans are right to be worried. Their club has only scored 16 non-penalty goals, better than only five other Premier League teams, including the three relegation candidates. Liverpool, meanwhile, nearly doubled that figure with 30.
The underlying numbers tell a slightly different story and might offer a little hope to Ten Hag’s men. They’ve generated 23.1 non-penalty expected goals so far this season, which is still worse than Liverpool’s 28.8, but not by much.
It’s also worth noting that goalkeeper André Onana boasts a positive post-shot xG plus-minus in league play this season despite his errors in Europe. His figure of +0.17 places him in the top six for the category per 90 minutes.
In terms of save percentage, he boasts a 75.3%, which ties him second with Fulham’s Bernd Leno. It would seem that Onana’s performances in the league haven’t yet caught up with him. But Liverpool’s attack might change that, as Liverpool currently averages 3.00 goals per game at home this season.
Sunday’s match will be a true test of their mettle. A win over their historic rivals can provide a significant confidence boost and may even save ten Hag’s job in the short term. This is easier said than done. Anfield is traditionally an incredibly difficult away fixture.
Should United win, it’ll be their first victory over Liverpool at Anfield since 2016. This season, Jürgen Klopp’s Reds have taken 21 points from seven home fixtures, second only to Aston Villa, while Man United only have 12 from seven tries on the road. As stated above, Liverpool averages 3.00 goals per game at home this season, to United’s 1.14 in away games. United also averages 1.00 goals against when traveling in the league.
To make matters worse for ten Hag, Liverpool are on a nine-game unbeaten run in the league, winning six out of their last eight.
But here’s the worrying problem for ten Hag and United: With losses against Spurs, Arsenal, and Manchester City, they’ve not yet beaten a single opponent above them in the table. They’ve only beaten one member of the traditional top six, Chelsea.
A loss to Liverpool would assuredly pile on the pressure that has been building around Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford since the 2023-24 season kicked off, while a win might give United a parachute to stop the free fall and might save their season.
American audiences can catch the action on Sunday at 11:30 AM Eastern on NBC and Peacock.
(Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)