After losing 2-1 to Brighton and 4-0 to Brentford in their first two games of the season, Manchester United’s dramatic improvement in recent months has taken many by surprise..
The Reds had the worst possible start to life under new manager Erik ten Hag, but United have been incredibly impressive since the nightmare start to the season. Ten Hag’s men have quietly recorded 15 clean sheets in 28 games this season, making them the only team in England still competing on all four fronts.
As a result, United is second only to Barcelona in La Liga and Newcastle United in the Premier League in Europe..
The Magpies have 16 clean sheets under Eddie Howe, which Xavi’s Barcelona equaled with their 1-0 win over Girona on Saturday, but the fact that the Reds trail them both by one shows the impact Ten Hag has had since his arrival.
While United have conceded 25 Premier League goals this season, six of them came in the 6-3 derby loss to Manchester City in October, and four against Brentford in the early stages of the season. The Reds have looked much better defensively this season, and the statistics back it up. MEN Sport investigated four reasons why the team has kept 15 clean sheets in 28 games..
De Gea’s pleasure
David de Gea will always divide the Manchester United fanbase. Some fans adore him, while others believe the club should replace him with a goalkeeper who is more comfortable with the ball at his feet. However, he has had a strong season so far and has played an important role in the team’s defensive improvements.
He struggled in the loss to Brentford and has made one or two mistakes since. Regardless, Ten Hag has supported the shot-stopper, and he is repaying the faith. The Spaniard has already made several big saves this season, and while he will never be able to play like Ederson or Alisson, his shot-stopping ability is unrivaled.
The 32-year-contract old’s expires at the end of the season, and while the club has the option to extend it, it is unclear whether they will do so. He recently moved into the top ten in terms of appearances and has been with the club since 2011, so consistency between the sticks is always a plus.
With the exception of the Carabao Cup, he has appeared in every single match this season – and in order to keep clean sheets, your goalkeeper must perform and make crucial saves. De Gea deserves credit for the role he has played thus far, with 15 clean sheets..
The Brazilian midfielder is exactly the type of player United has been lacking for several years. Casemiro has impressed in nearly every game since joining from Real Madrid in the summer. He took some time to get used to it, but he hasn’t looked back since becoming a reliable starter.
In addition to doing an excellent job of protecting the Reds’ defenders, the 30-year-old has already scored twice and contributed five assists this season. He was named the club’s Player of the Month in October and has been praised by pundits and former players for his impact at Old Trafford..
His importance to Ten Hag’s team was highlighted by his absence in the 3-2 loss to Arsenal, as the midfielder was suspended after picking up a fifth yellow card against Crystal Palace. It’s not surprising, given that he’s a five-time Champions League winner, that he’s been so impressive.
He appears to thrive regardless of which defenders start in front of him. Casemiro consistently outperforms Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof, and Harry Maguire at centre-back.
Shaw is capable.
Martinez and Varane both deserve a lot of credit for their performances this season, but left-back Luke Shaw deserves special mention..
The England international lost his starting spot to Tyrell Malacia at the start of the season, but he has looked even better since regaining it.
Martinez and Argentina won the World Cup in Qatar, so he missed the first few games back after the break in the season. Despite the fact that club captain Maguire was available for selection, Ten Hag chose to play Shaw alongside Varane in his absence. He filled that role in United’s win over City earlier this month, keeping Erling Haaland quiet.
The 27-year-old has returned to left-back in recent weeks and has continued to perform admirably. His ability to get up and down the wing has been crucial to United’s style of play, and he has even contributed..
Shaw has faced criticism from some Reds fans in recent seasons, but this season he has proven why he is his country’s first-choice left-back. The defender has been a key component of United’s defensive improvements, and he, like his teammates, deserves credit.
Ten Hag’s alterations
The Dutch coach arrived at Old Trafford under pressure to turn things around, and so far, he is making good progress. His team at Ajax was known for their free-flowing football and ability to win the ball back in good areas of the pitch – and United fans are starting to see more of that now.
While Ten Hag encourages his players to express themselves on the field, he also understands the importance of being solid defensively in all of their matches, particularly those in the Premier League. He has made a few changes as the season has progressed, and the emergence of Shaw as a centre-back option, for example, demonstrates his willingness to change things.
Clearly, the manager has not been on the field for any of United’s 15 clean sheets this season, but the work he and his coaches do on the practice field is visible. The fact that Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who previously appeared surplus to requirements, has been so impressive in recent weeks is due in part to Ten Hag’s belief in him..
As Newcastle has demonstrated, if you can keep clean sheets, you have a good chance of winning the majority of your games. It is critical for United and Ten Hag to remain difficult to beat..
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