There’s a narrative making rounds which is dangerous for the simple fact that it essentially shifts the blame to mystical creatures that must not be named. After all, most absolve Jose Mourinho of any wrongdoing so let’s look at the field of play itself. The Manchester United midfield is – without the slightest hint of sarcasm – in safe hands with Michael Carrick, Paul Pogba, and Ander Herrera from a control perspective. The attack is littered with talent, so Man. United should be bathing in goals.

So why then have only 39 goals been scored at an average of only 1.5 per game, and not at a much better rate than under Louis van Gaal? Popular rhetoric would have you believe that Manchester United are sixth because of Zlatan Ibrahimović. Is this true? The evidence actually paints another picture. Man. United are sixth in spite of his wastefulness.

The Good

There are always three sides to every story, mine, yours, and the truth. Zlatan has had a very real, measurable impact on Man. United this season, but to say it’s a yeoman’s effort is incompatible with the truth we are after.

Comparing all the top strikers in points won directly as a result of their goals and assists, gives a factual perspective of the realm of reality. This doesn’t capture the goals that very much changed the complexion of games that the team would have actually won if those goal contributions were removed, but more on that later.

Goals leading directly to points: How many points are lost by subtracting players’ goal contributions from the result. Adjusted for minutes played.

This is but a small part of the puzzle because goals to put their respective teams ahead or in a tie are overlooked here. To get a clearer picture of game-influencing goals, the logical step is to look at goals or assists that were game-tying or go-ahead ones, goal contributions that are deemed clutch.

Minutes per goal contribution that levels a game or puts players’ team ahead

The picture is again not one favourable to the Man United show starring Zlatan as saviour narrative. His tying or lead taking goals are most infrequent of all five top forwards reviewed. Even Sergio Agüero performs better despite having missed seven games through suspension and having only scored 11 total goals as a result. It gets worse, much worse.

Side notes: The tendency of Alexis to score against lesser teams in the league this season is further illustrated here if we consider how many goals he has scored and how many materially impacted the amounts of points Arsenal have. Arsenal were comfortable in many of these games.

Harry Kane and Diego Costa lead the pack, showing how instrumental they are with Romelu Lukaku also showing how integral he is to the Everton cause.