Ajax's double award is a positive sign for Manchester United's defensive problems as Erik ten Hag gets to work
There are many factors which have contributed to Manchester United’s disastrous 2021/22 season, but the one which needs most focus is the woeful defending.
Despite having first choice international defenders for England, France, and Sweden, United have been a mess defensively all season long.
How bad are Manchester United’s defensive problems?
Manchester United’s defensive problems have led to the team have conceded 56 goals in 37 games, more than Burnley, who sit 18th in the Premier League table.
This is United’s worst defensive performance since the 1978/79 season, in which the team finished ninth and conceded 63 goals. Although with four extra games that season, there is a case that this season’s performance have been worse.
This season United are averaging 1.51 goals conceded per game, as opposed to exactly 1.5 in ’78/79. Fine margins, but the 2021/22 team is undeniably historically bad.
Erik ten Hag offers hope
The numbers at Erik ten Hag’s Ajax are encouraging. His team has conceded only 19 goals in 34 games, an average of 0.52 goals against per game.
The Eredivisie is very different of course, but Ajax deserve credit all the same, especially with second placed PSV conceding 42 – although notably Twente had the best defensive record with just 18 goals against.
The real sign of defensive culture change that can impact Manchester United comes not just with the numbers, but with the team’s award winners.
Ajax presented two awards last week at the end of their season. The first was to player of the season Lisandro Lopez, a centre-back.
The second was for ‘talent of the year’, which went to 20-year-old defender Jurrien Timber, after a fantastic 2021/22 campaign.
The big correlation here is that even in a season in which Ajax scored a staggering 98 goals in 34 league games, their two award winning players were centre-backs.
This is a hugely encouraging sign for Manchester United, as Erik ten Hag prepares to get to work, bringing coach Mitchell van der Gaag along with him.
Whether Jurrien Timber heads to Old Trafford or not, Ten Hag and his coaching staff can get the best out of Manchester United’s defenders, and improve a worryingly under performing backline.
United need next season to be the start of a drastic, sustained improvement, and the new manager is already be plotting how he will turn it around.