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One thing that has been noticeable in Manchester United’s opening four Premier League matches is how impressive the Reds have become in winning headers, an area of the game that may not traditionally be viewed as a strong point.
Indeed, the stats show Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men are actually the best team when it comes to aerial duels in the entire division, albeit from the small sample of the four top-flight fixtures played so far.
However, the side performed well in this department in 2020/21 as well – and were only second in percentage terms behind Everton – indicating that United are becoming dominant when challenging for high balls.
Victor Lindelof has been splendid in the air this term.
Perhaps this is not too surprising when you consider Harry Maguire has arrived and wins countless headers in both boxes. Only Liverpool’s Rhys Williams finished above our skipper in this field last term (82.1 per cent to 77.5 per cent) and the England centre-back won 145 aerial challenges compared to the Anfield man’s 32 as he was much more of a regular.
However, this is a team effort and the likes of Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic are also big guys who can clear balls out of the box, something they were able to do last season.
This time around, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo have come into the squad to add their own prowess in the air which will be of huge benefit.
Yet a couple of other players will also surely be earning credit for their efforts so far in the Premier League. Victor Lindelof has won all nine of his aerial duels in the division, more than any of the other five players who also have a 100 per cent record.
Our second-best performer may shock some fans as it is actually Mason Greenwood. The youngster is developing his all-round game all the time and, encouragingly, is becoming more of a physical presence as he matures. The fact he has won three of his four aerial challenges means he sits even above third-placed Maguire at the moment.
Being able to compete in the air is a key requirement in the physical Premier League and this is not something that is lost on the sides hoping to challenge for the title.
Manchester City and Liverpool also score pretty highly in this fledgling campaign and both of last term’s Champions League finalists, City and Chelsea, were in the top four for battles won in 2020/21.
There might be a perception that this is not a department where United traditionally excel but the figures are showing otherwise. It will be interesting to see if they hold up for the rest of the season.
BEST AERIAL DUEL WIN-PERCENTAGE
(Won-lost, per cent)
1. UNITED 56-35 = 61.5 per cent
2. Watford 65-48 = 57.5 per cent
3. Crystal Palace 84-63 = 54.9 per cent
4. Liverpool 65-54 = 54.6 per cent
1. Everton 693-529 = 56.7 per cent
2. UNITED 533-432 = 56.1 per cent
3. Manchester City 499-426 = 53.9 per cent
4. Chelsea 614-550 = 52.7 per cent
5. West Ham 768-699 = 52.4 per cent
2021/22 AERIAL DUELS
1. Victor Lindelof 9-0 = 100 per cent
2. Mason Greenwood 3-1 = 75 per cent
3. Harry Maguire 11-4 = 73.3 per cent
4. Nemanja Matic 7-3 = 70 per cent
Stats courtesy of FBREF.com.