Statistics That Defined Manchester United's 2016/17 Season
There was one number that loomed over Jose Mourinho's first season in charge at Manchester United. It was a number that became synonymous with the club's struggles, a number to be gleefully bandied about by fans of opposition clubs.
That was the No. 6. Sixth place in the Premier League became a home from home for United as their long unbeaten run failed to undo the damage of their difficult start to the season.
Eventually, they crawled free of it, allowing Arsenal to borrow the spot for a couple of weeks until UEFA Europa League distractions meant they swapped places with the Gunners again and finished the season where they had spent most of it.
But while that could have been a disaster, other numbers mattered more. Let's take a look at the story of United's season through the prism of the cold, hard, statistical facts.
Number of League Goals
A look at the detailed version of the Premier League table makes it immediately obvious what United's biggest problem was in 2016/17. Rather surprisingly, given the investment they made in attacking areas of the pitch during the summer of 2016, putting the ball in the old onion bag caused them the most difficulty.
They scored just 54 goals in their 38 Premier League games, one less than Bournemouth. The top five comprehensively outscored them. Arsenal scored the fewest of those sides, with 77. That is 42.5 per cent more goals than United managed, an enormous margin.
Perhaps even more damningly, David Moyes' United scored 64 in 2013/14 (though eight of those goals were scored under the stewardship of Ryan Giggs during the last four games of the campaign).
Mourinho's season was infinitely more successful than Moyes', but this is the thing the United manager most needs to sort out between now and the start of next season.
Number of Big Chances Zlatan Ibrahimovic Missed
Unfortunately, while this is not the only reason United struggled with their goalscoring, this has to be acknowledged as a big one.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a lot of goals (more about which later), but any analysis of his season has to acknowledge just how many times he missed good chances. In his defence, many of those were created by his excellent movement and timing, but he was in a class of his own for missing them.
Opta, via its blog, defines big chances as "a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range."
This has a degree of subjectivity in its implementation, but no one who watched United this season would be surprised that Ibrahimovic, according to the Premier League's official website, missed more of those than any other player in the division.
His 18 misses put him five ahead of Sergio Aguero and Benik Afobe, who share second place with 13 each. That is a substantial unwanted winning margin in this category and counts among the statistics that define why United's season was not all it could have been.
Minutes Played by Wayne Rooney
That's the grumpy stuff out of the way. It's time to celebrate what went right.
One number dominated the story of Wayne Rooney's season, and that, was 250. On a freezing January day in Stoke-on-Trent, England, Rooney came off the bench to score a brilliant 93rd-minute free-kick. In doing so, he earned his team a point and put himself in first place on the list of United's all-time top scorers.
And with that, he can consider his work at Old Trafford done. Mourinho started the overdue process of edging Rooney out of United's first-team picture. No one would be surprised if he left the club this summer.
This season saw him make the fewest league starts he ever has for United—just 15, with the previous lowest number being 22 in 2012/13. He played just 1,540 minutes of league football for United, with 358 of those coming in May, once Mourinho had focused all his attention on the Europa League.
It has come with little fuss from player, manager, press or fans, but easing Rooney to the sidelines was no doubt one of the most important—and best—decisions Mourinho made all season.
Number of Goals Zlatan Ibrahimovic Scored
While those aforementioned missed chances may have cost United, Ibrahimovic's signing was nonetheless a success.
He scored 28 goals in all competitions, including 17 in the Premier League, a remarkable haul for a 35-year-old. He was instrumental in all competitions, scoring five Europa League goals and four in the EFL Cup.
His most memorable goals came in the EFL Cup final. First, he opened the scoring against the run of play with a spectacular free-kick. Then, in the game's dying minutes, he took ownership of United's play, engineering a counter-attack and making sure he was in position to finish it once Ander Herrera's beautiful dinked cross reached him.
United fans will remember that, and the trophy it won their side, long after memories of the misses have faded.
Interceptions Made by Ander Herrera
Ander Herrera was voted Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year by supporters, and while there were other good candidates, it was a deserved prize.
There were a few statistics that could have been used here to illustrate what a fine season he had—perhaps a breakdown of his performance against Chelsea at Old Trafford, for example. But in the end, the number of times he won the ball back for the Red Devils with his tigerish pressing and superb positional intelligence stands out.
With three interceptions per 90 minutes in the league, he comfortably topped the table of United players with more than five appearances. He is seventh in that category for the whole division but joint-top with Crystal Palace's Yohan Cabaye among midfielders.
Herrera's ball-winning was a definitive feature of United's season.
Chances Created by Paul Pogba Through Balls
Another key feature of their season was the relentless Paul Pogba's chance creation. It is certainly not the Frenchman's fault they struggled for goals; he more than played his part.
He created more chances with through balls than any other player in the division, and only Henrikh Mkhitaryan can beat him for through balls per 90 of those players with more than 500 minutes of football to their names.
His total-key-pass numbers were more than decent too—57 such balls put him top of United's chart ahead of Ibrahimovic on 48 and Mata on 45, though Mata's per-90 statistic is better given the difference in minutes played between the two.
Pogba was not always brilliant this season, but he made a hugely positive impact on United's campaign.
This is the number that matters. And whatever Mourinho might say, the number is two. The Community Shield might award a shiny plate at the end of the game, but it does not adhere to the same rules as other contests. Six substitutions are allowed, and for many years, the prize was shared in the event of a draw. There is a penalty shootout now but no extra time. It cannot be counted among meaningful trophies.
But two is still a big number given there were only four up for grabs at the start of the season. The EFL Cup is third in prestige terms among the domestic trophies on offer, but it is important to get into the habit of winning things, and it serves that purpose well.
And the Europa League is a massive trophy to have won. It is not the European competition United want to be in, but winning it completed their set. It is a long, gruelling journey and a tournament every team involved in the latter stages aspires to win, and United managed it.
It comes with the prize of Champions League qualification, which is enormously valuable. But winning the Europea League in and of itself was a wonderful achievement.
Two trophies won is a good number indeed.
Advanced data per WhoScored.com where not otherwise stated.
Goal and appearance data per the Website of Dreams.