Solskjaer Sacked – But Was He All That Bad?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time as Manchester United manager came to an end over the weekend when he was sacked, and it got me thinking. Just how bad was he as the Manchester United manager?

It is a question that is surprisingly difficult to answer, as it is dependent on what constitutes good and bad.

Many football supporters measure their team’s success in terms of trophies won, which is perfectly understandable. We all want to see our teams win a trophy or two, don’t we? On that measure, Solskjaer has failed. He won nothing as Manchester United manager, and indeed is the first United manager since Frank O’Farrell not to win anything.

So far so bad. But by another measure, Solskjaer is the third-best manager in the history of the club.

Take look at this table of Manchester United all-time manager, with the winning strike rates in the third-column from the right. Staggeringly, Solskjaer is ranked third (marginally!) behind only Sir Alex Ferguson and the supposed recent failure in the role, Jose Mourinho.

I’m not saying that Solskjaer is one of the all-time greats… But – just maybe – considering Manchester United is widely regarded as being a badly run football club, perhaps Solskjaer deserves plenty of credit for managing to win as many games as he did.

We can perhaps say the same for Mourinho before him too!

Revisting “There’s no place like home”

Back in June I wrote a short post about how a lack of crowds in the Premier League might change the likelihood of their being home wins. The idea behind it is simple: does playing at a ground full of partisan football supporters give home teams an advantage?

Because supporters are banned from attending football matches, the Covid-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to test this idea. Up to the point of the Covid-19 pandemic causing a temporary halt to the 2019/20 Premier League season in March 2019, these were the stats for the distribution of the results of the matches that had already taken place:

  • Home wins = 45%
  • Draws = 25%
  • Away wins = 30%

My theory back in June 2020 was that we might see the home win percentage drop to around 40%, purely due to the effect of teams not having a biased crowd act as a “twelfth man”. At the time, there were signs in La Liga and the Bundesliga that there might indeed have been an impact on the distribution of results by not having any crowd present.

Well… I’ve looked at the numbers in the Premier League since crowds were banned, and there does appear to be something in it. But not in the way I was expecting!

Looking at all 109 Premier League matches from the end of the 2019/20 season, as well as the matches played in the first two weeks of the 2020/21 Premier League season, all of which were played behind closed doors, there is a definite shift in results distribution.

  • Home wins: 50 out of 109 = 46%
  • Draws: 20 out of 109 = 18%
  • Away wins: 39 out of 109 = 36%

Before saying anything else, it is worth pointing out that we are only talking about 109 matches here, so relatively speaking that is not a big sample. However, there does appear to be something going on here as away teams have been winning at a greater frequency than previously.

Is it the case that away teams are more emboldened than previously, now that there is no large crowd to shout insults at them? Looks like it.

I am personally affected by this as my betting strategy on Premier League matches focuses on betting on the draw, where there has historically been a significant price edge to be had. Looks like I need to be wary of taking this approach, at least for the time being.

I shall update these numbers in another few months and see if home win strike rate falls a bit… I still expect it to if the crowds stay away. But time will tell, of course.