Manchester United's much-needed victory at Turf Moor brought an end to a rotten run of three successive defeats. Accompanying the three points was a clean sheet for new goalkeeper Andre Onana - his first since the opening day victory over Wolves.
That game is most remembered not for his first Premier League shutout at Old Trafford, but instead for the fact that many feel that he should have been penalised with a penalty for clattering into forward Sasa Kalajdzic late in the contest.
He, somehow, was spared punishment on that night despite a VAR review, but hasn’t avoided intense scrutiny in the weeks since after an uninspired start to his Manchester United career.
Prior to Saturday's triumph in Lancashire, United had conceded 14 goals in just five matches with Onana as their goalkeeper, and the former Inter star has taken a large portion of the blame for his role in that run.
On one hand, it's understandable considering his dreadful backpedal and stumble that allowed Forest's Taiwo Awoniyi to open the scoring in last month’s unconvincing 3-2 win. Then there were the weak attempts to keep out shots from the likes of Arsenal’s Declan Rice and Brighton’s Joao Pedro - strikes that should have been stoppable.
However, the real low point came in the match against Bayern Munich last week, where Onana allowed Leroy Sane's tame effort to slip underneath him, ultimately costing United a crucial Champions League result on the road.
"I have a lot to prove,” said Onana last week when reflecting on his first few months at the club. “My start in Manchester has not been good or how I want."
Few people would disagree. It’s obvious individual errors like the one in Munich need stomping out fast. But his start at the club has been hindered by the collective performances of those ahead of him.
After all, based on Premier League Post-shot xG (PSxG) data, which is an Expected Goals metric based on the quality of a shot on target, Onana has performed at pretty much an on-par level so far this season despite the occasional howler, conceding 10 league goals (one of which was an own goal) from a PSxG of 9.4 according to Fbref.
Indeed, if we open that playing sample size up further using the same model, Onana is painted as a more than adequate shot-stopper. Across 107 appearances in the five domestic seasons from 2018-23, with Ajax and Inter, he prevented six goals more than the average goalkeeper would be expected to.
Onana’s role in helping Inter Milan secure eight Champions League clean sheets last season, setting a new club and competition record, shouldn’t be forgotten either.
The reality is that irrespective of Onana’s own individual errors, United have simply been too easy to play through and haven’t provided him with the sort of protection you’d expect from a club with Champions League aspirations.
Only five Premier League sides - Fulham, West Ham, Sheffield United, Wolves and Bournemouth - have conceded more shots on target than Manchester United this season (33). As a consequence, Onana has made the fourth-highest number of saves (24).
Erik ten Hag has not been able to find the right balance in his side for much of the season so far, and for that, he has to take some responsibility. Yet, the Dutchman’s task hasn’t been helped by an abundance of injuries to key players.
Their returns should help, and Saturday’s performance was definitely a step in the right direction. Against Burnley, United’s xG against of 1.1 was the lowest so far this season, while their four shots on target faced was also a joint-low for the campaign.
More robust performances like that can give Onana the platform to find his groove at Old Trafford and start showing why United made him their No.1 target this past summer.