OXFORD United’s form has picked up after a slow start to the Sky Bet League One season.

Back-to-back victories over Cheltenham Town and Burton Albion have put the U’s 11th in the table after seven games.

Despite a relatively kind run of fixtures, United are yet to blow anyone away like they did several times last season.

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However, it was apparent from the opening-day trip to Derby County that Karl Robinson’s side are looking more defensively secure than in 2021/22.

The most basic statistic backs this up, with United scoring and conceding seven goals in their first seven matches.

It makes them the 15th highest scorers in League One, but the joint seventh-best defence purely on that metric.

It was a different story last season, when United topped the goalscoring charts (82) but conceded 59 times – more than 11 other teams.

Look a little deeper and you will find more evidence to show the U’s have tightened up defensively, while losing some of their attacking edge.

Before we dive into the numbers, it must be stressed that we are only seven matches into the season, so it is a relatively small sample size. Also, it is only natural that some fans are more convinced by statistics than others.

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But the headline figures revolve around expected goals (xG), which measures the quality of a chance based on how likely it will be scored from a particular position.

An xG of one means you would expect a player to score every time, while an opportunity with zero xG is one where it is impossible to find the net.

According to Opta, United’s ‘xG against’ in open play this season is 2.52, the lowest - so best – in League One.

For set-pieces, their xG against is 0.67, which puts them second in the division behind only Bolton Wanderers.

Those numbers are promising, although the concern is that United have conceded more goals than they should: five in open play and two from set-pieces.

1st = lowest for xG against from open play and set-pieces

It compares favourably with last term, when the U’s had an xG against of 35.24 in open play - still the sixth best in the division. From set-pieces alone, they ended the campaign on 13.23 – putting them 11th in the table.

The statistics are less encouraging for United going forward, though.

The U’s xG in open play is 3.79, putting them 20th in League One, while they sit 12th from set-pieces, on 1.39.

As you would expect, that does not compare favourably with last season.

United topped the charts for xG in open play in 2021/22, achieving 53.12, although they were down in 19th for set-pieces on 10.77 – so that has improved in the early weeks of this term.

Ultimately, it shows the U’s have done well to restrict the number of chances their opponents create, but they are not carving out as many opportunities at the other end.

The injuries will play a part in this. United are yet to name an unchanged front line this season, with Sam Baldock, Matty Taylor, Marcus Browne, Yanic Wildschut and Josh Murphy all missing games through injury.

This has forced Robinson to switch formations to 3-5-2 and deploy defenders James Golding and Ciaron Brown at wing back, a position where there is just as much onus on going forward.

Contrastingly, Elliott Moore and Steve Seddon are the only defenders to pick up injuries so far, with the U’s able to name the same defence in their first four league games and Marcus McGuane an ever-present in front.

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These statistics will not be news to anyone at United, of course, and Robinson admitted as much after the 1-0 defeat to Bristol Rovers on August 13.

“You’re caught in between being entertaining and free-flowing, and solid,” he said.

“I think no-one can disagree we look solid, I think we deny teams opportunities.

“We’ve maybe gone a little bit too far one way, and need to find a little bit more offensiveness and keep that solidity.

“You can see what we’ve worked on relation to defensive shape, we’re just not creating enough chances which allow us to miss one.”