There has been much talk about United’s unbeaten run. Since the 1-2 defeat by Chelsea last April (and he was miles offside), United have gone 25 games unbeaten across the end of last season and the beginning of this. In his piece yesterday, Yashi made the point that an unbeaten record may affect a team’s willingness to go for the win, as well as that a loss and a win is better that two draws (since three-for-a win came in in 1981/82). Here’s a little further expansion on that point, looking at the last five years of the Premier League.
Recent history tells us that draws can seriously damage your health. In each of United’s last three title-winning seasons, the team finishing second actually lost two fewer games than United, but let too many points dribble away in stalemates. In 2008/09, Liverpool only lost twice all season, but drew 11; that’s 22 points dropped in games they didn’t lose. United lost 4, but only drew 6, and took the league by 4 points. Similarly, Chelsea amassed 10 draws in 2007/08 and 11 in 2006/07, despite losing only 3 games each season.
(In fact, in 2007/08, United lost the most games of any of the teams in the top four, with 5 defeats. Chelsea and Arsenal only lost 3, while Liverpool lost four. Yet United only drew 6 — compared to 10, 11 and 13 respectively — and that’s what made the difference.)
Obviously, in any individual game, a draw is better than a loss. But a lack of draws across a spread of games is a sign of a side trying to win, taking chances, going for the throat. At the top of the table that means win most, lose a few. That’s the United way. It goes without saying that most teams in the Premier League (including, hilariously, City) are happy with a draw against United, and when the opposition is happy, you shouldn’t be.
It needs to be remembered, of course, that this is a side awaiting the return of its most potent attacker, who’s been off in America doing star jumps: United will be hoping that Wayne Rooney’s return can turn those draws into wins. And our title rivals have been obligingly dropping points in his absence. But one final statistical point: over the last five seasons, since Mourinho’s second title, no team has won the league having drawn more than 6 games. So far this season, it’s Manchester United: W 6, D 7.