It won’t be a popular notion in a competitive world which demands people make their own luck, but Manchester United fans should not push the panic button yet when it comes to the club’s early season performances.
Yes, there are deserved questions about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a manager (Jesse Lingard has been subpar for the better part of a calendar year), and Paul Pogba as a center piece. Marcus Rashford may not be a “United level” star center forward and the sale of Romelu Lukaku without replacing him with a backup above the age of 17 is a hazard at best.
Despite all these things, United should very much be unbeaten right now.
The Red Devils weren’t as good as their 4-0 score line versus Chelsea to open the season, but it appears their opponents aren’t anywhere near the traditional standard bearers to wear the Stamford Bridge set’s blue colors following a draw with Leicester City and scrappy 3-2 defeat of Norwich City.
Consider: Opta reports that United is only the second team to win a penalty in each of their first three matches to a Premier League season, after Chelsea in 2012-13.
Also consider: Chelsea made all of theirs (Also an odd one, all of those penalties came before the 23rd minute. Low stress. The scorers were Frank Lampard (2) and Eden Hazard).
United probably deserved to have gotten all three points from their draw with Wolves a week ago, and no club deserves to be enraged as the seemingly case-by-case rulebook being applied to in-game penalty reviews by the VAR (although Spurs supporters are likely feeling a change in the wind between Aymeric Laporte’s handball and Jamaal Lascelles’ face plant, we imagine).
The nature of the last two finishes has also been a shock to the system. United, like most big clubs, simply doesn’t lose at home and not late. According to Opta, Patrick van Aanholt joined Thierry Henry as the only visitors players to have scored a 90th minute winner at Old Trafford (At some point we should have a discussion about Van Aanholt being criminally underrated, but not on account of David De Gea’s “Where’d my hands go?” routine).
But this is very much a case of luck, fortune, or whatever word you deem adequate to describe the defiance of statistics. On Saturday alone, Gary Cahill tried a rodeo mount of Martial and VAR somehow didn’t deem it a penalty; Rashford smashed a penalty off the post; And one of the finest goal keepers in the world forgot how to keep goal.
Small sample size alert, but look at United’s standing in these statistical categories (via WhoScored.com). The Red Devils have had all of the ball, are winning their 50/50s, passing well, and are arriving in an ornery mood. Obviously, they should shoot more. Also, they should score their penalties.
The other good news comes in this way: United’s best performers have come from the players they’ve identified as a big part of their future.
Anthony Martial has been their most influential player and should’ve won a penalty against Palace in addition to his assist (and goals in each of their first two PL matches). Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Daniel James are delivering the goods, too.
United faces a tricky trip to in-form Southampton this week. Saints deserved a point against Liverpool before beating Brighton, but will be playing its third match in a week following midweek League Cup action versus Fulham.
Should they falter, especially via a missed penalty, well... first and foremost, send us your popcorn gifs. But truly, consider the performance. Given the club’s lack of addressing the midfield and willingness to let Lukaku walk, perhaps you’d say the Red Devils displays away from the penalty spot this early season have been in a decent place.
This isn’t to say the team is great. I picked them to finish outside the Top Four and have yet to be swayed that the Red Devils can come together quick enough to outlast Man City, Liverpool, Spurs, and Arsenal over 38 matches. Solskjaer is likely to prove a lesser Zidane over time (a terrific man manager, but not as advanced when it comes to matching wits with the best tactical minds or even super experienced ones like Roy Hodgson).
Panic, however, should be reserved not for a 1-1-1 start. If you want to direct your frustration somewhere, I’d choose the lot using missed penalties to fire racism at players.