The stat that proves Manchester United made a transfer mistake in the summer window
Manchester United knew they were taking a risk in the summer transfer window when they allowed Romelu Lukaku to leave the club just two years after he joined.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had no clear place for the Belgian striker in his side and it was widely perceived that Lukaku would have warmed the bench had he ended up staying at Old Trafford.
United’s decision to sell Lukaku is one which can be justified for both financial and squad morale reasons, but the lack of a replacement already looks like it could prove costly this season.
Solskjaer’s side came unstuck at the weekend again as Southampton sat back and absorbed the pressure and United yet again failed to break down a team that was happy to drop deep in front of them.
The absence of Anthony Martial proved costly to United on the South Coast and Marcus Rashford was trusted to lead the line in his place. It wasn’t quite the same.
Part of the problem is down to the early benchmark that has been set by Martial, while Rashford has never been a natural No.9 in the mould that Solskjaer desires.
With four matches gone in the Premier League this season Rashford should be the leading scorer in the division going off xG. The expected goals statistic often polarises supporters, but based on the chances he’s had the 21-year-old should have 3.30 goals.
Obviously the stats are skewed by the penalty miss against Crystal Palace, but even if that had gone in Rashford would be behind his projected output so far.
What makes the stat that bit more alarming is that 11 players have scored more goals than the England international despite having a lower expected return. Sergio Aguero has netted six goals against his projected 3.11, Teemu Pukki has five against 1.79 and even Tammy Abraham has four when the stats suggest he shouldn’t even have two.
In defence of the England international it was never a role in which he confidently proclaimed himself to be a success in this season.
“It is a different challenge,” Rashford told the press at the first media meeting of pre-season in Perth. “It is two completely different situations. My goal was never to be a No.9 who can’t play anywhere else.
“Playing on the left and the right, that is what I want to do. I know what I have worked on since a six-year-old and it is to adapt.”
Rashford should not be castigated for lacking the clinical edge to play in a position which has never been his favourite, but Solskjaer must be ruing the lack of recruitment in the summer.
“I said on the way back from tour we were still looking for one replacement for Romelu if he went,” Solskjaer confessed ahead of facing Southampton last weekend. “We are one down to be fair but we didn’t just find the right one, we didn’t find the answer that we wanted.”
On the one hand it is easy to sympathise with Solskjaer. He wanted a new striker in the summer window, but there were no viable options for him to bring in.
But on the other hand, it only makes the decision to sell Lukaku look like one which could come back to haunt them.
The Belgian striker didn’t feel appreciated at Old Trafford and he wanted to leave, but was it really in United’s best interests to sell their best striker with no real plan for coping without him?
The injury to Martial so early in the season only amplified the scrutiny on United’s current attacking crop of players and even with the French forward fit there is a lack of proven quality in this side.
Mason Greenwood always looks bright from the bench but a continued string of cameo appearances from the right wing will hardly aid his development as a natural scoring option.
Solskjaer and United have both taken a huge risk with their striking options for the season ahead, and the early evidence suggests the gamble might not pay off.
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