After a summer of heavy investment, it is perhaps no surprise to see the two Manchester clubs leading the way at this early point in the Premier League season. Deadlocked on 16 points from a possible 18 and only separated by Man City’s superior goal difference, we could be looking at a very early two horse race for the league title. Chelsea are clinging to their coattails after recovering well from an opening day defeat, but for the purpose of this piece, I wanted to look at the red half of Manchester, and more specifically, an emerging trend that has seen them blitz opponent’s late in matches to run up an inflated score line. Using Stratadata, I will assess whether the results have been just, and what this could mean for the trading markets, specifically Asian Handicap and Over/Under from a dead ball and in-play perspective.
Taking a quick trip down memory lane to this point in the season 12 months ago (6 games), and there is already a noticeable difference in output at both ends of the pitch.
Spurred on by the goals of Lukaku up front while remaining staunchly organised defensively, there has been clear early improvement across the board for Jose Mourinho’s men. But how have they done it, and is it a sustainable method?
Looking at this season’s data, one thing that immediately jumps off the page is the quality of chances that have been created over the opening six games. Naturally there is a gradual reduction in the number frequency from Poor Chances to Superb Chances, as by definition, the better the chance the harder it is to carve out in the first place, though the rewards are often far greater. However, what is interesting is that the number of Good (22), Very Good (21) and Great (21) chances is very closely bunched, each accounting for roughly 15% of all chances created by the team so far. What this means, is that not only are they creating with reasonable regularity, on average 3.6 Great, Very Good and Good chances apiece per game, but they are also drastically improving their odds of finding the net as a result.
Looking a little deeper at the numbers, we can not only see that Man Utd are creating chances, but that a lot of their better chances are coming later in matches, correlating nicely with their elevated goal output at these moments. After the 60 minute mark in games so far, Man Utd have fashioned, 11 Great chances, and 12 Very Good chances, a very interesting trend considering that in the opening hour of games they have managed 10 Great chances and 9 Very Good. Could this purely come down to fitness? Or is there more to it?
If we look in terms of game state at this point in matches, it can be argued that Man Utd aren’t doing enough in the first 60 minutes to totally kill off opponents, which leads to more space opening up in the latter stages as an equaliser is chased. They have been ahead of their handicap just twice in their opening six games at this point, suggesting movement on the in-play market could hold some value for the more patient.
By managing games well defensively and controlling the tempo. Man Utd could be very cleverly waiting for the opportunity to strike and further pad their advantage when opponents press a little higher and commit more bodies forward. It’s well known Mourinho likes his team to be well organised defensively, especially when they are holding onto an advantage. However, when games become stretched, this is where goal efficiency has really improved, with Man Utd showing a lethal touch in front of goal late in games, converting 91.6% of all Great Chances created beyond the 70 minute mark, a remarkably high statistic that they would do very well to sustain throughout the season.
The use of substitutes has also been a useful tool in Jose Mourinho’s arsenal this season, and it’s noticeable how their goal output rises when fresh legs are introduced from the bench. On average Man Utd’s first substitution has come after 68 minutes this season, while all 10 goals scored in the final 30 minutes of matches have also been netted following the first change, something which could act as a potential trigger point for traders looking at in-play on both Over/Under and Asian Handicap markets, where better opportunities could be available. For those more inclined to make dead ball trades, staying patient with Man Utd and not hitting the exit button early seems a smart move at present, especially if games are close, as they have been in every game so far.
From a trading perspective, the markets have naturally leaned towards Man Utd as favourites in their matches, with all six opponents faced being weaker on paper. However, the highest dead ball handicap that they have faced is -1.5 (on four occasions), with there being understandable wariness about Mourinho’s pleasure at getting the result above a high scoring victory. In their two closest games to date away at Stoke and Southampton, the handicap has been set lower (-1 and -0.75 respectively). Neither are easy places to go, and while they only earned a draw at the former, the Stratadata fair score for that clash was a 2-1 win, which would have at least secured a push on any handicap staking. Indeed, by using Stratabet’s Fair Score model, it reveals that not only have Man Utd been winning games, but they have been doing so on merit, with only matches with Everton and West Ham being closer than the real end score suggests.
Moving into future matches where opponents will become tougher, they may find it harder to continue their excellent trend of results and late goals, but the defensive resolve that is coming with their attacking output so far should allow them to continue picking up results even when they are stifled in the final third. So far only Stoke have managed to breach the Man Utd defence, with both of those goals coming from a Great Chance, so conversion could perhaps be expected. Total Goals markets have tended to follow a similar pattern to the handicap markets, with the most recent clash against Southampton seeing the lowest set line at 2.25 (much due to Southampton’s abysmal home output), while there has been nothing higher than 2.75 in the dead ball markets across other fixtures. While these lines have ultimately been beaten in 4/6 matches played, the late goals scored have tipped games beyond the natural line where it had previously looked unlikely.
Ultimately it’s likely that opponents will wise up to Man Utd’s late attacking threat and will remain a bit more rigid at the back, so O/U markets may not push into the 3+ range too often pre-match, but it appears at present Man Utd can be relied upon to not only create, but also convert with regularity in the final third of matches, helping them overcome both Handicap lines, and Total Goals Lines for weeks to come.