Why Erik Ten Hag might be forced to renew David De Gea’s contract

Another day, another away defeat for Manchester United who look to be putting their place in the next year’s Champions League in serious jeopardy. United have managed a mere 24 points from 18 games away from home this season scoring just 21 and conceding 33. The Red Devils seem to have lost their edge which primarily might be down to United playing with a depleted squad and fixture congestion. The drop in quality from first-team players to the ones on the bench is vast and needs addressing in the summer. United boss Erik Ten Hag has given his team two days off after their defeat against West Ham United which was their 57th game of the season. United have a clear midweek to prepare for the first time since September.

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Taking the focus away from the fixture congestion and injuries to crucial players to the 1-0 defeat against West Ham which saw United keeper David De Gea coming under immense scrutiny for his howler that allowed Said Benrahma’s back pass shot cripple into the net. Despite the scrutiny and demand from most of the fan base for De Gea to be replaced Ten Hag insisted he plans to stick with him as he plans to extend the Spaniard’s contract. Had De Gea not committed that error United would have still failed to win the game as they failed to score yet again. Luke Shaw highlighted that after their defeat against Brighton, he said: “I know the problem. We know the problem. The problem is we don’t score. In the first half, we had three or four big chances that we should be scoring. That’s happened a lot of times this season. The game is completely different if we score early on.”

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Manchester United’s expected goals (xG) this season is 56.02 but they have managed only 49 goals so far meaning they are performing below average. xG is a measure of the probability of every shot taken considering several factors like angle and distance. Ten Hag spoke on similar lines as Shaw after the defeat against West Ham, he said: “I think we started well, we dictated the game, we created chances, we didn’t take them.” The difference between United’s goals scored and xG is -7.02 and is only better than Everton, West Ham, and Chelsea in the league.

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I took into consideration several key factors like xG, shots on goal, shots on target, key passes, passes into the final third, take-Ons completed, and other noticeable factors and compared them with players in similar positions in the league to see what is going wrong for United’s frontmen.


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The Brazilian winger signed for £85m from Ajax hit the ground running at United with a debut goal against Arsenal at home which saw his team prevail 3-1. The left-footed winger has had a mixed bag of reviews from the United faithful and has often been labeled as a ‘one-trick pony.’ Antony has only contributed 4 goals and 1 assist in his debut campaign at United in the Premier League. Antony averages 3.49 shots and 1.29 shots on target (SoT) per 90 which means the United man has 96th percentile in the league among attacking midfielders and wingers. Simply put, only 4% of players in this pool have a better SoT per game than Antony despite which the forward has only 4 goals (xG 5.6) this season in the Premier League. The United winger has 37.1% SoT per 90 and 0.06 goals/shot per 90. The majority of his shorts are from the edge of the penalty area when he cuts in on his favorite left foot and tries to bend it in the far corner.

Looking at his ability to create Antony has expected assisted goals (xAG) of 0.12 per 90 which is below the average of 0.17 per 90 in the league. Antony is below average in the league for passes into the final third (1.52) and key passes (1.24) per 90. He is at 46th and 42nd percentile respectively. Antony could provide another threat to the opposition with his pace on the counter and United could have exploited it however, the winger hasn’t fared well in 1v1 situations. The former Ajax man has attempted 3.88 take-Ons per 90 but has only managed 1.41 successful take-Ons per 90 which is a mere 36.2% success rate. Only 26% of players in this category have a lower successful take-Ons% in the league. His inability to take on and beat his man shuts another attacking avenue for United primarily on the right flank which is his predominant position. 

Marcus Rashford

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Manchester United’s most prolific attacker this season with 16 goals (xG 13.6) and 5 assists (xAG 3.1)in the league and has saved United from the blushes on numerous occasions. However, the forward has not been devoid of criticism in recent weeks and the biggest argument against him is that he does not pass enough. It was arguably hard to argue against Rashford for the majority of the season but growing concerns over a champions league spot and his form lately have left United lacking in front of the goal. The United man averages 3.19 total shots and 1.44 SoT per 90 leaving him with 45.4% shots on target and is at 88th percentile in the league. Rashford has 0.16 goals/shot per 90 and only 17% of players in this pool have bettered his goals/shot tally.

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United’s talisman has been prolific in front of the goal however looking at his ability to create the stats are appalling. Rashford plays 0.92 key passes per game and only 24% of players in the league play lower key passes per 90. Rashford averages 1.15 passes into the final third per 90 and is at 22 percentile in the league amongst similar players. Like Antony, Rashford has 37.1% successful take-Ons. He averages 4.33 take-Ons attempted per 90 and has completed an average of 1.61 take-Ons per 90.  Rashford’s passing stats aren’t impressive either as he averages a mere 25.28 passes attempted per 90 and only 10% of players have a lower pass attempted per 90 than Rashford playing in attacking positions. Rashford’s appalling passing stats and creativity boil down to multiple reasons and primary one of which is he has played through the middle for reasonable parts of the season where you would expect players to make space and get a shot on goal. You can either say Rashford is selfish in front of goal or rather doesn’t trust his teammates enough but United would be in a lot more jeopardy if it wasn’t for his goals.

Jadon Sancho

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Sancho’s return in front of the goal is similar to Antony with 5 goals (xG 3.3) and 2 assists (xAG 2.5) in the league so far. Another big-money signing in the summer of 2021 who has failed to hit top gear at United since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund. Sancho averages 1.13 shots per 90 (0.46 SoT) and only 12% of the players in the league have a return lower than this for shots per 90. The United winger is at 86th percentile in the league for key passes (2.06 per 90) however, he is at 30th percentile for passes played into the final third (1.26 per 90). Sancho has a 41% success rate for take-Ons completed% (4.05 attempted per 90) and is below average in this category as well compared to attacking midfielders and wingers in the Premier League. Both Antony and Sancho have looked out of ideas in the final third of the pitch and haven’t fared well in 1v1 situations certainly making United a little less potent on counter attacks.

Alejandro Garnacho

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The 18-year-old Argentinian winger has burst onto the scene and impressed the majority of the United supporters with his abilities. Another by-product of the United Academy who has shown a promising future lies ahead of him and it would be unfair to criticize him with just a touch over 450 minutes under his belt this season. The winger was named in the matchday squad for the defeat against West Ham United after having last featured against Fulham where he got injured however, he did not play any part in the game. Looking at his numbers Garnacho averages 3.18 shots per 90 (1.19 SoT) and is at 90th percentile for shots on target per game.

His stats for key passes (0.40), passes into the final third (0.20), and passes into the penalty area (0.20) per 90 are the lowest in the league. However, his strength is his ability to carry the ball forward and dribble past opponents, and beat opposition players in 1v1 situations which both Sancho and Antony have primarily failed in. The youngster goes toe to toe with some of the best in the league for carries into the final third (99 percentile) and the penalty area (99 percentile). Garnacho averages 7.35 take-Ons attempted per 90 however averages only 1.99 successful take-Ons per 90. The initial signs are promising for the youngster and apart from Rashford, he is the only one who looks a more certain threat to the opposition goal.

Anthony Martial

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A player whose season was yet again plagued by injuries and has managed just 761 minutes for United on the pitch contributing 4 goals (xG 4.5) and 2 assists (xAG 1.3). The returns are abysmal if you are playing up front for Manchester United and even when fully fit, he has not necessarily always started ahead of Wout Weghorst and this does explain a lot. It just feels like Martial just doesn’t trust his body anymore after all the injuries and does not go full pelt in duels or probably that is his full pelt now. It’s hard to see a future for Martial beyond this season at United. The Frenchmen averages 2.25 total shots per 90 (1.06 SoT) only 38% of forwards have a lesser total shots per 90. His season has been affected by injury but we say that almost every season for Martial now.

Wout Weghorst

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Erik Ten Hag sent Cristiano Ronaldo to exile and the best they could do to replace him was with the Dutch forward Weghorst whose brace against Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinals probably earned him this loan contract at Manchester United. In 727 minutes of Premier League football Weghorst has managed just a solidarity assist to his name and that perhaps explains everything about how he has performed at United. Weghorst is a hardworking center forward and is often deployed in deeper areas of the pitch for Man United where he has been seen making crucial tackles in the defensive third but going forward it is evident his teammates don’t trust him enough ad he hasn’t offered anything to help his case either.

The Dutch international averages 0.17 xG per 90 and is among the 8% of forwards who offer a similar or lower xG. The forward averages 10.52 and 2.72 touches in the attacking third and penalty area per 90 and only 4% of forwards in the league offer lower touches in the penalty area per 90. Not what you would want from a centre forward but he ranks among the best for his defensive contributions amongst other centre forwards. Weghorst is at 96th percentile for interceptions (0.87 per 90) and 82nd percentile for tackles (1.24 per 90) but as his loan spell is coming to an end there are hardly any reasons to offer him a contract at United. 

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It is fair to say why Ten Hag insists to continue with David De Gea at least for now and plans to spend his summer purse elsewhere as United is set for another big summer window.

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