One win in their first four games had people describing the start of Manchester United’s season as “a horror” or “disastrous.” With three wins dating back to March it was not a fun international break.
Many fans were ready to turn on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with some even saying he’d would be sacked by Christmas. Others said he needed to go now since he had the club playing in “relegation form.”
None of that had any context. In the Premier League context is everything. It’s not just about what you’re doing but what everyone else is doing too. Last season 97 points wasn’t good enough to win the league. When United won the treble in 1999, they won the league with 78 points. That wouldn’t have been good enough to beat Leicester in 2016 who did it with 81.
The point is it’s not about how many points you have. It’s about how many points you have compared to everyone else.
After five games, Solskjaer’s “relegation form” has the team 4th in table with 8 points. That’s just two points behind Champions Manchester City. To me that seems more like Champions League form but just for fun let’s check in on where United’s Top Four rivals are sitting in the table.
Tottenham (8 pts) 3rd
Chelsea (8 pts – lost to United) 6th
Arsenal (7 pts) 7th
Not bad. Now let’s take a look at those mid table teams whom everyone said would easily jump United this year.
Leicester (8 pts – lost to United) 5th
Everton (7 pts) 11th
Wolves (3 pts – 0 wins) 19th
To recap, it’s everyone’s darling Wolves who are the team in relegation form. That shouldn’t come as much a surprise. The knock against United was they weren’t going to have the squad depth to compete domestically and in the Europa League. However, everyone saying that failed to take into account that Wolves had the smallest squad in the league last year and had to start qualifying for the Europa League in July.
Wolves have already played 11 competitive games this season (compared to five or six for the rest of the league). It’s clearly taking a toll on them. Last year Wolves’ strength was against the top of the league, where they took more points off the top six than the bottom six. If they couldn’t learn how to consistently beat the bottom of the table making the jump into the top four, or even six, was going to be difficult. So far they haven’t shown that ability.
All in all Solskjaer’s team is still doing just fine. They’re wins came against Chelsea and Leicester. Two teams that United are built to beat. Their troubles have predictably come against teams that sit deep. They still need to show they can learn to break them down.
After United’s tumultuous summer, many fans had zero faith in the club and expected them to fall all the way down to the middle of the table. The poor start didn’t do anything to quell those fears.
We’ve already covered how United have actually been better than their results suggest this season. That doesn’t mean that two wins in their first five games is good, but it’s not the end of the world either.
The haters will say that’s only four wins since Solskjaer got the job permanently. I’ve always maintained that stats that date back to last season are bullshit. By then Solskjaer was managing team completely depleted by injuries and exhausted by the rigors of a long season (both mentally and physically).
Besides, dating back to March is a completely arbitrary number. You want a stat that dates back to last season? Since Jose Mourinho was sacked only Liverpool and Manchester City have won more points than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United.