United play the hits in trademark away win from behind

Dave Tickner
Edinson Cavani Manchester United Aston Villa

Would it not really just be a lot simpler if we all just agreed not to bother with the rigmarole of actually playing Manchester United away games?

There’s still a pandemic on, United have a ridiculously busy season-closing fixture list and, frankly, it just feels like a monumental waste of time and resources when we all know what’s going to happen anyway.

After a slightly low-key start all round, Manchester United doze off alarmingly at the back and concede a goal. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer delivers a half-time rocket, and things improve significantly after the break. United equalise, quite possibly via a Bruno Fernandes penalty after Paul Pogba cleverly draws an unnecessarily careless foul from a panicked defender. Then United go ahead. Then Edinson Cavani heads in a third. Just give them the points and we can all get on with our lives.

Now Sunday might be the first time that precise script has played out so precisely and in full, but it does feel like the story of literally every single Manchester United away game this season. Really, we were only surprised when we looked at their stats and discovered they don’t have 18 wins out of 18 away from Old Trafford this season. There are even some games when they haven’t fallen behind!

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Pretty confident that’s fake news perpetuated by the MSM but anyway the wider point is that this Manchester United side has a remarkable set of qualities and flaws that always seem to be on display for (generally, in the end) better or (occasionally) worse.

Why do they start games so slowly? Why does it never actually matter in the end? What witchcraft is this?

Second-half Manchester United are a genuinely fantastic side who look more than capable of doing slightly more than just delaying Manchester City title celebrations. First-half Manchester United are a half-asleep shambles.

The slow starts are a problem you’d generally like to solve in a more direct way, but United have found the perfect workaround. The numbers are entirely extraordinary. If for some reason you decided to only count the points Manchester United have won after falling behind in games, they wouldn’t get relegated. They have won more games from behind (10) than a quarter of the division’s teams have managed via any means. United have won more games from behind than games in which Manchester City have been behind. Manchester United have ended up winning two-thirds of the games in which they’ve fallen behind this season; for context, the next best record in this particular niche statistic is Leicester, whose four wins from 14 deficits still comes in at under 30 per cent. United have been behind at some stage in half their Premier League wins this season.

That’s more than enough numbers and fractions and percentages for anyone, but these are very, very silly numbers.

For Villa, this remains a hugely encouraging season but it is now showing undeniable signs of petering out a bit. After all the excitement of last season’s climax, a dull finish this time around isn’t the worst thing in the world but it would be a bit of a p*sser for a season that hinted at Europe for so long ends with a bottom-half finish. Covid caveats abound and the overall season report card is still good, but the direction of travel has just gone astray at the last.

No such worries for Manchester United, though, who now need to simply go through the formalities of falling behind at Molineux before running out comfortable winners to complete a full season of unbeaten away games. We might as well give them the record now.