Manchester United’s season in numbers: The good, the bad and the ugly

Manchester United’s FA Cup final triumph against Manchester City last month was the highlight of a disastrous season for the club.

Erik ten Hag led them to an eighth-placed finish — their worst since the Premier League era began in 1992 — while navigating a campaign that included more than 60 individual cases of illness or injury.

Despite the emergence of youngsters Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho — and a second trophy in 15 months — 2023-24 was a season many United fans will be thrilled to see the back of. There was a Champions League group-stage exit, a heavy defeat at home to Newcastle United early in the Carabao Cup, and a night to forget away to Crystal Palace, where they lost 4-0 at the beginning of last month.

Their poor season has led to INEOS, the club’s new minority investor, which controls football operations, launching a review into what went wrong, with the outcome expected to determine whether Ten Hag continues as the manager.

Ahead of the FA Cup final, United contacted potential replacements, including Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna, who has instead signed a new contract after delivering successive promotions to return that club to the top flight after more than 20 years in the EFL.

But as that internal review continues, what do the numbers from 2023-24 tell us about United — and was it that bad?

The Athletic breaks down the data…

Let’s start with the positives.

No player created more chances in the 2023-24 Premier League than United’s captain Bruno Fernandes. The Portugal international’s 114 were 11 more than Brighton & Hove Albion’s Pascal Gross in second place, and 41 more than Manchester City’s Phil Foden, who has scooped several end-of-year awards for his brilliance as City won a fourth straight title.

Rasmus Hojlund, signed last summer from Italian club Atalanta in a deal worth up to €85million (£72.4m/$92.2m at the current exchange rate), was the youngest player to score 10 or more goals in the division; the Dane turned 21 in February.

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Ten Hag also added to his United trophy haul following Carabao Cup success in 2022-23 with that FA Cup win, taking him level with Jose Mourinho and Ron Atkinson in the table of major silverware won by United managers.

While Sir Alex Ferguson’s haul of 25 is unlikely to ever be caught, and it is not yet clear whether Ten Hag will be in situ to try to equal third-placed Ernest Mangnall’s three, he moved ahead of fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal and Tommy Docherty.

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The club’s FA Cup success means next season will be their 10th in a row playing in European competition. Had they not beaten City at Wembley, that lowly league finish — United’s worst since 1989-90 — would have meant the end of that streak.

They will play in the Europa League, which means sixth-placed Chelsea drop into the third-tier Conference League and Newcastle United, who came seventh, won’t compete in Europe at all. From 1990-91 onwards, United have had just one season not playing in some major UEFA competition or other: 2014-15.

Unfortunately, all that is about as positive as the season got for the club as far as the numbers are concerned.

So, now we move on to the bad…

Ten Hag was relatively relaxed about United allowing the other team to shoot, so much so that they ended 2023-24 having conceded more Premier League shots than Derby County did in 2007-08 when they were relegated with a record low of 11 points and just one win from their 38 matches.

United ended the season behind only Sheffield United — who finished bottom of the league with 16 points and three wins — when it came to shots conceded.

There were 667 attempts on their goal over 38 games, with City conceding just 294 as they were crowned champions again.

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This openness at the back, in part down to Ten Hag not being able to rely upon Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw — his three most important defenders in 2022-23, being fit — meant the 2023-24 side joined an unwanted list in United’s record books.

In only seven campaigns in the club’s 146-year history have they conceded more goals in all competitions, with 1930-31 the worst of the lot at 121.

Alarmingly, and no doubt in part down to all those defensive injuries, United conceded three or more goals in 15 of their games during 2023-24.

And because they played 52 times across four competitions, it means they conceded three or more goals in 29 per cent of their fixtures.

Finally, it’s time to hold your nose and look at the downright ugly.

In the Premier League, United scored 57 goals and conceded 58, meaning they ended a season with a negative goal difference for the first time in 34 years.

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This, unsurprisingly, contributed to their lowest league finish since 1989-90, when they ended up 13th out of 20 in the old First Division.

Until 2023-24 their seventh-placed finish in 2013-14, which was the first campaign of the post-Ferguson era and started with David Moyes at the helm and ended with Ryan Giggs in interim charge, was the closest they had come to matching that low.

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It wasn’t much better in Europe, either.

United went out of the Champions League in the groups, finishing bottom of their section below Bayern Munich, FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray, winning just one of their six matches and in doing so conceding 15 goals. This meant they missed the safety net of a spot in the knockout round play-offs of the Europa League clubs get for coming third and instead were eliminated from UEFA competition altogether before Christmas.

Those 15 goals are the most ever let in by a Premier League team in a single round of group play in the Champions League and is the same number Chelsea conceded in the whole of the 2004-05 Premier League season (across 38 games). United conceded four times in two of their six games — away against Bayern in September and at Copenhagen in November.

To put this into context, opponents scored four or more goals in a match just three times in United’s 293 games (a number that includes qualifying-phase fixtures) and 31 seasons in the European Cup/Champions League before 2023-24. Their four Champions League group-stage defeats contributed to a total of 19 losses in all competitions — United have been beaten more often than that in only nine seasons in their history.

There were six Premier League defeats at Old Trafford, matching the number of times they were beaten at home in the first five Premier League seasons combined: 1992-93 (two), 1993-94 (one), 1994-95 (one), 1995-96 (zero) and 1996-97 (two).

Despite all of the damning numbers that highlight just how much of a struggle 2023-24 has been, United still ended it with the same number of the three major domestic trophies as Manchester City and Liverpool (one) to show for their efforts; and one more than Arsenal (none).

There will be plenty to ponder for INEOS and senior football executives at United as they objectively work through their internal review.

And it remains to be seen whether that will result in a new manager taking over for 2024-25 but, for now, most of those associated with the club, that Wembley win against City aside, will just be thrilled to turn the page on a season littered with disappointments, injuries and new lows.



Explained: INEOS’ bid to cut non-football staff at Manchester United

(Top photo: Michael Regan – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

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