Fantasy Football

Is it possible to back Manchester United?

Is it possible to back Manchester United?

Backing Manchester United?

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There has been an air of dissent around Old Trafford for much of the season and what has been a disappointing campaign so far this term looks set to fizzle out rather than come to an explosive finale with the latest injury set back to United’s captain Wayne Rooney. In a season that has seen some of the lowest ownership stats for Manchester United players, the talismanic England striker had just got himself sorted in front of goal with 5 goals in his 7 Premier League games in 2016.

But with all the teams at the top looking likely to drop points at some stage over the remaining 12 games is there a case to be made for backing any players in the Man Utd team and are there any bargains to be snapped up in the midst of the latest injury setbacks.

Stats Over Style?

The style of play (or lack of it) at Old Trafford has been much maligned by the fans and the pundits this season and the manager has taken much of the criticism this season. But United have the highest possession stats in the Premier League with 56% on average, just pipping 2nd placed Arsenal who have 55.8% overall.

The high possession stats seem to translate well to the defensive results for the two rivals with United only having conceded one more goal than Arsenal this season and both find themselves having a team that is in the top 3 defences in the league this season, both conceding well under one goal per game.

But is in front of goal where United’s fortunes have contrasted those of Arsenal, Spurs, Man City and Leicester (all the teams above them in the league) so far this season with United only being able to muster a paltry 33 goals in 26 games, which is 8 less than Arsenal and 15 less than table topping Leicester. Almost half the teams in the league have scored more goals than the Red Devils this season and this has to come down in part to style.

Cries of “shoot” and ironic applause when shots have come in have rung around Old Trafford in some of the lower moments earlier this season and there is a direct correlation between the shots per game and this low goal tally. United are ranked 13th in the Premier League in terms of shots per game with just 11.6 on average. To get a sense of perspective, Man City top the league with 17.3 shots per game whilst West Bromwich Albion prop up the league in terms of this statistic with just 9.7 shots per game.

It doesn’t read much better when we look at home performances with Liverpool leading the way at home with a massive 19.4 shots per game at Anfield compared to just 12.9 for 12th placed Man Utd.

Where are the Goals?

In front of goal, United have only 4 players who have scored more than 2 goals this season. They are Wayne Rooney (7), Anthony Martial (7), Jesse Lingard (4) and Juan Mata (4). With Rooney now injured there could be a case made for Anthony Martial and over 8% of FPL managers have put their faith in the 20 year old Frenchman to revel in Rooney’s absence.

Martial has averaged just 1.8 shots per game on average but has been playing out wide for much of the season and one might think that this would improve when he adopts a more central striking role but the concern is that he has actually performed better when playing out wide this season. In the 17 games that he played in the traditional centre forward role this season (across all competitions) he has scored just 3 goals and had 2 assists. The 10 games in which he has played out wide on the left he has scored 4 goals and had 2 assists.

For me, yes it is tempting to put Martial in your team (especially valued at just £7.6m) but with so many other striking options with players who have performed well all season I think you would have to either be blinded by supporters faith or crazy to put Martial in.

Bargain Basement

There is one bargain attacking option that could reap rewards for you and at the very least will give you a very cheap fifth midfielder and that is Jesse Lingard who is valued at just £4.3m. Having featured in the last 6 Premier League games (over 60 mins in each game) and scoring 2 goals in his last 3 Premier League outings he could be one player to get in on right now. He looks set to retain his starting place and although United were downed in Denmark in the Europa League this week, he did have 5 shots in that game and has averaged 2.8 shots per game in his 4 Champions League performances this season. The 6 week absence of Wayne Rooney should give the 23 year old Englishman a chance of a real good run in the team and he will be targeting a Euro 2016 place so has plenty to play for.

Having already highlighted the defensive qualities of the United side this may well be one other area in which you decide to invest. Borthwick-Jackson is the player that has caught the eye in recent weeks and at just £4.1m the young defender has started the last 4 games and enjoyed 2 clean sheets, 2 bonus points and an assist in that time. If you are looking for a decent cheap defender then you could do much worse and Louis Van Gaal will be relying on him and the rest of injury stricken defence as they look to mount a challenge to claim a Champions League place in the league.

The Final Word

It is hard to recommend anyone to put their faith in any United players and I will not be rushing to put any of their under-performing stars in my team. There is a slight case for Martial but this is based more on circumstance than any real showing of form, whereas the bargain options of Lingard and Borthwick-Jackso remain the only real options that make sense for an FPL professional.

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