Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as the manager of Manchester United, he has made it clear many times that he wants his team to ‘run the furthest in the league’ so that they were more akin to the ‘United teams of old’. He emphasised how much he wanted us to outrun our opponents and press other teams off the pitch. Fast forward to now, the winter break of the next season, has that desire of his come to fruition? Or has it failed to materialise? Time to look at the numbers.
As of the winter break, United have a PPDA of 9.27 (if you’d like to know more about PPDA, check out this page here). To put that number into context, this ranks the Old Trafford outfit as the 8th best pressing side in the league, sandwiched behind Everton and just in front of Arsenal. Last season, United’s PPDA was 10.49, so it has got better by just over 1.2 from last season, the season prior to that was 10.25. So there has been a slightly noticeable increase in the pressing numbers. Interestingly, when home and away figures are looked at separately, they do definitely differ. At home, United press with a PPDA of 8.45, 5th best in the league. When away however, this then drops to 10.39, back to 8th in the league. This means that United have a bigger delta between how intense they are at home compared to when they play away. They’re more willing to allow the opposition possession when playing on the road, whereas Manchester City have the exact same PPDA of 8.32, regardless of if it is a home or an away game. Even more so when we look at Leicester and Liverpool, who actually increase their impressive pressing statistics whilst away from the King Power Stadium and Anfield respectively. This could, in part, explain why United have lost 3 times more games away than at home this season (6 losses away to 2 losses at home); in the same vein it is no surprise to see that at Old Trafford, our goal difference is 17 goals better off than our away record.
Looking at pressing alone, 8th place in the league would not suggest that the squad are the hardest workers in the league, as Solskjaer so demanded back when he got the job; and when they do run further and press more, they win more and lose less. There has been slight improvement since last season, but still not a massive jump relative to the the other teams in the league. Of course, it is not a direct correlation, there will be other factors involved in the process. Nonetheless, it is food for thought.