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Manchester United’s Jekyll and Hyde performances demand attention

Manchester United are on the verge of returning to the Champions League under Erik ten Hag following a season-long absence.

Sunday’s 1-0 home triumph over Aston Villa cemented the Red Devils’ top-four bid, keeping them seven points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand.

With only five rounds left, United should have a third top-four finish in four seasons wrapped up unless something truly bizarre knocks them off their perch down the final stretch. 

There’s no arguing the Dutchman has been a massive upgrade on the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick. But it’s not all been rosy for the ex-Ajax boss. 

One of the drawbacks of Ten Hag’s decent first season at Old Trafford is that Man United have been the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ performances, depending on whether they play at home or on the road.

Manchester United’s home form

Since going down 2-1 to Brighton & Hove Albion on the 53-year-old’s touchline debut in August 2022, the Red Devils have gone into overdrive at the Theatre of Dreams. 

The aforementioned triumph over Villa extended United’s formidable home form to 15 unbeaten Premier League matches (W12, D3), making them the best-performing home team in the league by some margin.

During that span, Man United conceded just six goals at an average of 0.4 per game, contributing to the fact they remain the only Premier League side yet to hit double-digits this season. 

United’s defensive solidity has provided a backbone for the team’s outrageous run on home turf, often taking the spotlight away from the patchy-performing front lines. 

While only Manchester City (43) have picked up more Premier League points in their backyard than United (39), prolificacy hasn’t been the Red Devils’ strong suit by any stretch of the imagination.

Among clubs sitting in the upper half of the table going into the season’s run-in, only 10th-placed Fulham (24) have netted fewer home goals than Man United (28).

However, Ten Hag’s men have excelled in making every goal count. 

Virtually unplayable after opening the scoring, they are the only side in the Premier League to boast a 100% win ratio in top-flight home games when leading at half-time in 2022/23 (10/10). 

This continues United’s impressive stat of never losing a game at home in the Premier League era when leading at half time – a record dating back 31 years.

Manchester United’s away form

With a massive share (62%) of Man Utd’s Premier League points this season arriving at Old Trafford (39/63), it takes no rocket science to get an understanding of the club’s travel sickness. 

Defensive resilience that has been United’s trademark under ten Hag at the Theatre of Dreams somehow vanishes whenever the Red Devils take the road. 

It’s unfathomable how a side that boasts a league-high ten clean sheets on home soil becomes so vulnerable when playing on hostile turf to concede as many as 31 times on 16 league trips. 

Simple math shows an alarming average of nearly 2.00 goals per match, casting doubt on Ten Hag’s capacity to get the best out of his team without raucous home support.

Adding to this sentiment, Marcus Rashford & co have claimed just one win in their last 13 Premier League away outings against sides starting the round in the top half of the table (D3, L9).

Even though the numbers don’t look promising, it’s worth noting that only three teams have racked up more Premier League victories away from home than Man United (seven) this season.

But there’s a common denominator that perhaps could lay the foundation for the success the Red Devils have been craving since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement a decade ago. 

Like at Old Trafford, United have developed a habit of taking points on the back of a half-time lead, which could serve them well in future endeavours. 

Although it’s not as emphatic as at home, they haven’t lost any of their six top-flight away fixtures in which they’ve been ahead at the break in 2022/23 (W4, D2).

Fixing Manchester United

One factor that softens the away form disappointment is that the bulk of the goals conceded away from home have come in a handful of games. The losses to Brentford, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal account for 20 goals in just four games, leaving United with a record of 11 conceded goals in the other 12 away games.

A proven goalscorer to improve United’s output (home and away), and a stronger midfield/defence that can handle hostile environments like the Kop, and United’s record is likely to be a lot better next season.

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