David de Gea’s suitability for Erik ten Hag’s ultimate vision has once again been questioned, with the emergence of some interesting data on Manchester United’s defensive habits.
@Utd_Analytics recently posted the following tweet:
“United have one of the deepest lines of defense in the league. If you think De Gea won’t hold us back, then you’re either naive or you don’t understand football.
“United cannot “resign” as long as De Gea is in the net. Proactive Gk’s supports high lines – graphs support it.”
United have one of the deepest defenses in the league. If you think De Gea won’t stop us, then you’re naive or you don’t understand football. United cannot “step up” as long as De Gea is in the net. Proactive Gk’s supports high lines – charts support this.#MUFC pic.twitter.com/lSh9QOGuj8
— ManUtd Analytics ⚽ (@Utd_Analytics) September 19, 2022
The accompanying chart shows that the Red Devils had the lowest line of defense in the Premier League, with only mediocre figures for pressure intensity, measured in Passes per Defensive Action (PPDA).
That’s a far cry from the first signs seen on United’s preseason tour, in which the intensity of pushing high and dominating games promised a rapid shift to a proactive, modern style of football.
De Gea is known for his passive style of goalkeeping, which has been put forward as the reason for United’s stark position on the chart above.
In reality, there is something more to it than that. For starters, United have only played six games this season, making it a fairly short sample size.
Notably, four of those games were against the four teams that played the top defenses in the league in the early stages. When playing against a high line you often have to drop your own line to escape the pressure and find space in the back so that the depth of United’s own line over those games is softened somewhat.
There is also a good chance that the profile of the Manchester United attackers – like the goalkeeper – has influenced Ten Hag’s tactical set-up.
“Because of the speed of Martial and Rashford, I tried to provoke space by not pushing straight through but coming back a little bit, not parking the bus, but to the halfway line and then the defenders halfway into our own half.”
Those quotes do not come from Ten Hag, but from a former Dutch manager at United: Louis van Gaal. He realized that in the absence of superior technical quality, it was more sensible on his part to “provoke space” to get the most out of his fast attackers.
The current manager has probably realized the same thing: he still has the same players.
That’s not to say that suggestions that De Gea should replace at some point have no value. United are currently avoiding the Spaniard at all costs in building play and they are doing so for good reason. A keeper who could contribute to the ball would certainly be a blessing.
But what is more pertinent to United’s defense is that a number one who excelled at shot prevention – who claimed he went over and swung outside his penalty area – would give United the ability to propel their defense onto the pitch.
That would be a positive step to bring the pre-season pressure game into the ‘real world’ of competitive football, but it’s important to note that Ten Hag still needs a number of attackers who can deliver quality in tight spaces like it does. is endgame.
From now on he has Jadon Sancho and new addition Antony. Over the course of a long season, that’s probably not enough.
For now, the height of United’s defenses will likely shift as much as the needs of the attackers as the limitations of the goalkeeper.