Two areas United must improve to challenge Liverpool and City

With Manchester United out of action for the foreseeable future, an opportunity has arisen to plan for next season.

That applies to Ed Woodward in the transfer market but also allows Ole Gunnar Solskjaer time to plot a tactical blueprint for next season.

Not many supporters would have expected United to compete with Manchester City and Liverpool this season, but that is the ultimate goal for Solskjaer.

United are making strides in that direction but have to become a more rounded team to sustain that challenge across a Premier League season.

We’ve had a look at this season’s stats to pick out two areas where United could improve to bridge that gap.

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Finishing has to be better

As per WhoScored, United have had the fourth-most shots per game in the Premier League this season, with 14.8 every match.

That’s only 0.8 fewer than Liverpool’s, but Jurgen Klopp’s side have netted 20 more league goals this season.

As per UnderStat, United have an expected goals figure of 49.06, which is over five goals more than the 44 they have actually scored.

That’s still 12 down on Liverpool, so it’s clear that while United are comparable in terms of quantity of chances to their bitter rivals, they also need to create a better quality of chance.

Plenty of that boils down to creativity and crossing from wide areas, which is somewhere Bruno Fernandes has already helped make huge strides.

If United had scored the amount of goals they were expected to score, they’d have seven more points and be sitting in fourth place right now.

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Aerial prowess a weakness?

The signing of Harry Maguire has quite plainly improved United’s ability to deal with aerial threats.

But Solskjaer’s men rank fourth bottom in the league (WhoScored) in terms of aerial duels won per game.

The only teams lower down the rankings are Arsenal and Manchester City, both notoriously flimsy against more direct tactics, and Norwich City, who sit bottom of the league.

One element of this may be Solskjaer’s insistence on keeping the ball on the ground – which is to be lauded.

But there’s also an element – specifically earlier in the season – of United not dealing well with the aerial challenge, especially from set-pieces.

That hints at a soft centre that certain sides may seek to exploit, although it should be noted that United appear to have improved in that area lately anyway, with the aerial bombardment at Everton impressively repelled at the start of the month.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.