Raphinha’s last winner to see Leeds United defeat Crystal Palace on Tuesday night may have injected some hope in 2021/22, but the mood has generally remained flat this year.
The excitement and freshness of returning to the top flight last season with a classic debut at Liverpool, quick wins on the table, a point from Manchester City, a hat-trick from Patrick Bamford and a beating from Newcastle United all kept the chin well above the water 12 months ago.
The threat of relegation to the Premier League never presented itself last season in what seemed like the best eight-month vacation of your life, but it just got harder this time, more painful and more worrying .
The chain of results seems to have dealt the hardest blow to morale. Many of the results from the first 14 games of this season aren’t horrible in isolation, but put them together and it feels like a desperation train racing.
The early bonding at Manchester United was exactly the same result as last season, but everyone’s first impression of this season. It was difficult to get out of it.
The long wait for the first win didn’t help either and then when the wins came they found themselves with narrow margins.
And yet, despite all the worries, misfortune and gloom, United are only two points worse than they were after 14 games last season.
The Whites, who of course finished ninth at the end of the campaign, were as low as 14th after 14 games as well, so barely moving away from the position this quarter.
There are of course caveats. Based on the league positions (at the 14-game bar) of their top 14 opponents each season, the start of 21/22 was slightly easier.
Last season’s 14-game opponents average position was 9.4, this time around 11.6, which in theory should have allowed United to score more points in 21 / 22.
By this point in 2020 United had played all of the top five, but in 2021 these are just two of the top five teams in the division, along with the worst six around them as well.
The numbers show where things have gotten better and weaker. There were five wins, two draws and seven losses in 20/21. Wins fell to three in 21/22, draws climbed to six and losses fell to five.
An incredible 24 goals were scored in the opening 14 games of last season, up from 13 in 21/22, while the goals conceded fell from 30 to 20.
United are harder to beat, better at the back, but struggling up front.
As we know injuries have struck this season, with Luke Ayling, Adam Forshaw and Patrick Bamford three players in arguably United’s strongest XI who have missed a long stretch of the campaign so far.
Last season Diego Llorente was the only forced absence from the squad’s strongest lineup.
Llorente was injured, but Rodrigo was absent from the starting lineup largely because of his integration, and then some trouble followed. Raphinha, of course, didn’t become a factor until early fall.
No one would suggest this campaign has started better than the last one, but the facts at least show that there is reason to be optimistic and reason to believe this season should not be the relegation some believe it to be. could be.
The foundation is there to match last year, if not to come very close.