Manchester United kick off their Premier League campaign in a week’s time and they will be determined to kick on from a decent season last time out, but improvements will be needed.
Undoubtedly one of the areas in greatest need of improvement is the away record. United won just one match away from home last season against sides to finish in the top half.
In terms of home form, the Red Devils, with 48, were only four points short of Man City, who top that table, while away from home, Man United, with 27, were 12 points short of Arsenal, who held the best away record in the division.
United’s goal difference of -11 on the road was easily the worst in the top half of the table and you have to go as low as 13th-placed Bournemouth before you find worse. That tells its own story.
It is a clear area for improvement and one that could take some tactical tinkering from Erik ten Hag.
The Dutchman wants his team to be positive and play on the front foot, pressing high and entertaining fans, but in the cauldrons of the Premier League, it is sometimes more important to tighten up and play the percentages.
It might be an idea to go with two defensive midfielders in away games against sides in the top half this season. Last term, it was essentially down to the triumvirate of Casemiro, Lisandro Martinez, and Raphael Varane to halt counterattacks and offer protection in defensive transitions.
This season, another body to help them out could be a shrewd move. Sofyan Amrabat looks to be Old Trafford-bound, and he would perhaps be an ideal candidate to offer stability on difficult away days.
Rotating the Moroccan with Mount in midfield may well be Ten Hag’s plan as he looks to build upon the success of his last campaign.
Another option could be leaving one of the fullbacks in the rest defence when attacking. Typically, Ten Hag has both his fullbacks underlapping in a bid to create a central overload and help work the ball up the pitch, but in the Anfields of the world, it might be better to leave an extra defender back in case of a turnover.
Essentially, last season Man United operated with a risky 2-1 rest defence – this is the structure of players who were left back when the team was on the attack. The simplest solution to avoiding the blitzkrieg goals United so often suffered on the road would be to go with a 3-1 rest defence. That way, less would be asked of the defending players in defensive transitions as there would be more men available to provide coverage.
There were also occasions on which United were too easily caught in possession, but we can expect this to be somewhat lessened due to the signing of Andre Onana. The Cameroonian is always happy to receive the ball and excellent at playing through the press, so this should prove less of a problem as time goes by and his new teammates get used to him.
There may still be errors – there was one in each of United’s last two preseason games – but these will be ironed out as the team settles.
Ultimately, it will come down to adaptation from both the manager and the players, but Manchester United can improve upon last season’s away record. They really need to.