Stats: How does Manchester United's back four compare to their back three?

Louis van Gaal has played both a back three and back four in the early stages of the Premier League season.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal had one big problem to address this season when he came to Old Trafford - and that was to sort out the defence.

Whilst some of United's transfer business in signing star names such as Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao must be applauded - some have said the lack of defenders signed with experienced centre-backs Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand leaving the club, is a major worry.

So far United have played both a back three and a back four this season. Their opening game defeat to Swansea City saw them switch from a three to a four in the second half - but returned to a three in the games against Sunderland and Burnley. In all three of those games United's defence looked shaky.

In the 4-0 win against Queens Park Rangers, it looked a little more solid at the back for van Gaal's men, barring the odd mix-up, but QPR didn't turn up that day and offered very little going forward. Even so, United's shape looked far better.

But in the 5-3 defeat to Leicester City, it seemed to be back to square one as United surrendered a 3-1 lead. But is there any comfort to be taken from United's defensive performance, and is one set-up better than the other?

Here is a look at the statistics:

Manchester United's first three games of 2014/15:

  Percentage of tackles wonDispossessed per gameEffective Clearances per gameDuels won per gameOutfielder Blocks per gamePlayed
Manchester United 82.46 9.33 22.00 59.33 1.67 3

Manchester United in on Premier League matchdays four and five:

  (Won Tackle / Total Tackle) * 100Dispossessed per gameEffective Clearances per gameDuels won per gameOutfielder blocks per gamePlayed
Manchester United 66.67 9.00 28.00 50.00 3.50 2

United's percentage of tackles won is down significantly in the games where they started with a back four, and the amount of times the defenders get dispossessed returns a similar number. The back four so far indicates they clear their lines better and gets bodies in front of the ball in order to block any crosses or shots.

But with a back three, they seem to be better in the tackle and win more duels with their opponents. It may be a case of having more to do, but the defensive unit seems to tackle better and compete with better with a back three compared to a four at this early stage of the season.

Getting dispossessed on at least nine occasions per match is far too much for any defensive unit, and the tackles won needs to be closer to 83% rather than 66% - and the amount of duels they're winning overall needs to rise if they are to tighten up at the back.

A back three or a back four, Louis van Gaal has plenty of work to do on the training ground with his defence.

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