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Manchester United-Chelsea highlights this weekend’s Premier League action

(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Sunday’s Manchester United-Chelsea match is unquestionably the marquee Premier League fixture for the weekend, but it may not be as competitive as the names involved would suggest. Sixth-place Manchester United still rates relatively poorly in my expected goals ranking, with an opposition-adjusted expected-goals ratio of just .500. That is, once you account for United’s easy opening schedule, the Red Devils have created chances of about equal quality to those they have conceded.

And this is not simply a matter of the underlying statistics disagreeing with the Premier League table. United’s points total is mostly a function of its schedule. To estimate the effects of schedule differences, I have used my simulator to create a schedule-adjusted Premier League table. I use my simulator to estimate how many points a theoretical perfectly average team would have taken against the same schedule. An average team, facing an average schedule, would project to take about 10.5 points from eight matches. So I take the difference between a team’s actual points total and the number of points an average team would have taken from the same schedule, and then I add 10.5 to create the schedule-adjusted table.

As you can see, Manchester United is just 11th in the schedule-adjusted table. It’s two toughest fixtures so far have been home to Everton and away to West Bromwich Albion. An average team facing the same schedule would project to take about 13 points, so United is actually behind expectations despite its superficially solid table position. This table also puts Manchester City somewhat closer to the top of the table, as Manuel Pellegrini’s club has played one of the three toughest schedules in the league so far. Its second-place rank is particularly impressive given that the Citizens have faced Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal already. So while Chelsea still looks like the title favorite, some of the Blues’ lead is a function of schedule strength. It’s a bit closer at the top of the table than it looks.

In Sunday’s match, Manchester United will have home-field advantage, and home sides in the Premier League typically average about 20 percent more goals than their opponents. This gives United a reasonable chance, but I still think an upset is unlikely.

The one hopeful note for United is that its recent form has been reasonably good. Beating Everton at home is a solid result, and Louis van Gaal’s men had the advantage in chances created against West Brom by about two to one. Chelsea, on the other hand, played perhaps its weakest match of the season against Crystal Palace. The performance was good enough to win, and featured a goal of the season contender, but Chelsea did not dominate the shot chart as it has done previously against weak teams. The expected goals for the match only favored Chelsea by a few tenths of a goal. If Chelsea’s attack comes out slow again, a team with Manchester United’s forward line should stand a chance.

All data provided by Opta unless otherwise noted.

Michael Caley writes for Cartilage Free Captain, where he analyzes fancy soccer statistics and bemoans Tottenham Hotspur’s most recent failures. You can follow him on twitter at @MC_of_A