Manchester United’s final away win of the 2021/22 season came exactly a year ago today, when they defeated Leeds United 4-2 at Elland Road.
It was a win that left them in fourth place in the rankings, albeit 17 points behind leaders Manchester City at the top. They won just three more games before calling it quits on a disappointing season on May 22 at Selhurst Park.
United’s fortunes and the attitude surrounding the club could not be much different a year after that rain-soaked victory in West Yorkshire. The Red Devils’ 3-0 triumph over Leicester City at Old Trafford on Sunday not only tightened their hold on a top-four berth but also put them within five points of league leaders Arsenal and just three points behind City in the second.
Whilst some fans are still hesitant to get engaged in title talk, the reality is that Erik ten Hag’s players are in the title race, although as outsiders. They are currently closer to Arsenal at the top than to Tottenham Hotspur, who surpassed Newcastle United in fourth place on Sunday.
As impressive as the scoreline appeared on Sunday afternoon, United had to battle hard for those three points, especially in the first half. David de Gea was called upon twice and produced two superb saves to deny Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho before Marcus Rashford opened the scoring.
At the break, though, the Reds had a much more collected aspect about them, controlling the game and looking as if they would score every time they got in and around the Leicester penalty area, encouraged by Jadon Sancho’s entrance from the bench. There could only be one winner when Rashford bagged his second of the afternoon for his 24th goal of the season.
Even while Rashford’s brilliance is frequently at the heart of United’s good fortune these days, De Gea and the defensive line in front of him deserve a lot of praise. Despite Ten Hag making three changes to the back four that began against Barcelona in Spain just under 72 hours earlier, it was mostly untroubled, dealing with everything that came it’s way after weathering an early Foxes storm.
The victory was De Gea’s and United’s ninth Premier League clean sheet of the season, which means they have already kept two more shutouts in the league than they did last season. The Reds were a defensive disaster last season, conceding 57 goals in the league alone, so their goals conceded column of 28 this season is considerably more impressive.
Six of the ten clean sheets United have recorded in the league this season have come at Old Trafford. In comparison, they only had five clean sheets in the league on their home turf the whole season last year.
United’s vastly improved defensive standards under Ten Hag have resulted in a significant improvement in their home play. The win over Leicester was the Reds’ eighth in 12 league games this season, bringing their total of points won in M16 to 29. Only City has more (31) on their home turf this season.
In comparison, United won just ten of their 19 home league games last season, totaling 35 points. With seven more home games remaining, United should easily break through that barrier, having transformed Old Trafford into one of the most feared venues on the Premier League circuit.
Not only has United been a lot more efficient at home this season, but they have also been much more difficult to score against. They hold the Premier League’s joint-best home defensive record this season, surrendering only eight goals, along with Chelsea and Newcastle United. Last season, they allowed 22 goals at home.
Given that United have not been prolific scorers this season, they have had to guarantee that their back-four is solid and reliable. They’ve become well-organized, difficult to beat, and, for the most part, defensively sound, as seen by the fact that only Newcastle has preserved more clean sheets (12) this season.
United’s ability to transform Old Trafford back into a fortress, combined with their strong defensive record, has resulted in them being able to make considerable progress in a very short period of time under Ten Hag. He has fixed two significant faults and used them as the foundation for the club’s revival.