It’s fair to say when everyone sunk into their armchairs for a sleepy Sunday afternoon they were more than likely expecting to be soothed to slumber by the gentle hum of artificial crowd noise.
What they weren’t expecting was a 16-goal haul in just 180 minutes of action across two Premier League fixtures. Or maybe they should have been expecting it…
In lieu of actually being at the game, group chats were ablaze throughout most of a truly Super Sunday. “Six minutes… 2-1 Spurs!!!”, “if Martial goes, Lamela has to as well”, “VAR… [general expletives]” and so forth, as Tottenham thrashed Manchester United 6-1 in their own back garden.
Crazier still, Liverpool were obliterated 7-2 by Aston Villa – the same Aston Villa who survived relegation on the final day of last season, the same Aston Villa with a defence as strong and stable as… (well, you can make the joke) and a strikeforce with [checks notes] zero goals to their name in the Premier League season – yes, that Aston Villa.
On the face of it, there is no logic, no reason, no rhythm or rhyme as to why these results came about, but these games are not isolated incidents – a pattern is emerging from the madness.
The opening round of fixtures recorded a rather low total of 23 in eight games, as opposed to 10, with a bizarre quirk of five away teams winning to nil, a home team winning to nil, a 3-1 victory for Chelsea and a 4-3 win for Liverpool. A peculiar week, albeit not a goal flood.
Week two witnessed a record number of goals scored in a matchweek during the 20-team Premier League era with an eye-watering total of 44 strikes.
Last weekend finished up with 36 goals, this weekend finished up with 41.
Let’s take a history lesson: the highest tally of the 20-team Premier League era came in 2018/19 with 1,072 scored (2.82 per game).
Going further back, the highest ever tally in the Premier League era – regardless of league size – came during the inaugural 1992/93 campaign with 1,222 finishes (2.65 per game). That season included an additional 82 games due to the league including 22 members.
In 2020/21 so far after four rounds of matches, we have arrived at 144 goals in 38 games out of 380 in total. That makes the calculation a simple one. If the rate of goals is maintained, we’re on track for 1,440 goals in 2020/21 with an average of 3.79 per game.
The question now is: why?
Instantly, attention will turn to the glaring, obvious change to football under lockdown restrictions:he crowd. It’s an area worth investigating, though it feels near-impossible to go about it in a scientific, rational way.
Crowds are passionate, volatile and don’t offer tangible advantages or disadvantages, meaning the effect of their absence is largely subjective.
One line of thinking could involve the pressure factor being removed from players, which could play out one of two ways.
Some under-pressure teams and stars may be playing with greater freedom; they may feel more at ease, without a baying crowd on their back – whether it’s their own support or opposing fans.
A little bit of breathing space, a dead atmosphere, could actually relax players, particularly strikers in front of goal – fewer judging eyes to appease.
Take Aston Villa, for example, whose players were under intense scrutiny from a disgruntled ground all season long last time out.
Could the lack of an understandably nervy crowd have taken the weight off their shoulders enough to find the sparkling form that has led them to second in the Premier League table?
This could also have the converse effect on defenders. Could the lack of a crowd de-intensify defenders? Across the pond in the NFL, crowds are commanded to be silent for the home team’s attacking drives to allow for concentration and thought, and they’re actively encouraged to raise the roof on defensive plays in a bid to fire up the defence and distract opponents.
Attacking players with greater freedom running at flat defenders is favourable combination for TV viewers, though of course, it may not be correct. There are other factors at play.
Penalties. A combination of a Premier League handball rule that forces unnatural movements to adhere to the lawmakers’ definition of a natural position combined with VAR – A.K.A. The Ultimate Grass – has led to a surge in penalties.
The highest number of penalties awarded in any Premier League season is 106 in 380 games during 2016/17. We’re already at 25 after 38 games in 2020/21. Once again, do the maths. We’re on course for 250 penalties this season.
Of course, with all stats, the sample size must be greater for a more accurate reading, but the crude calculations are an indicator of where the season could end up going.
A final factor to consider is fitness. Manchester United and Manchester City were both delayed by around a month in starting their summer breaks due to European involvement, yet were only given an extra week off before the new season.
You could theorise that United and City may be less sharp, less well-rested than other teams, but the theory doesn’t hold water when you bring Liverpool into the equation.
The Reds had wrapped up the league and visibly took their foot off the gas in the remaining weeks of last season, they started their summer holiday on time and enjoyed a long break – barring the Community Shield. They, of all teams, particularly being led by Jurgen Klopp, should be fitter than all.
Ultimately, while we may not fully understand the reason, these wild-scoring results are terrific for the Premier League and a major win for fans at home in need of a mood-boost following a more than difficult year to date.
The importance of the escapism that free-flowing football and seven-goal thrillers provide cannot be underestimated, and long may it continue.
Underdogs are thoroughly deserving their victories, the ‘elite’ are running scared, defenders are terrified beyond belief, and we’re loving every moment of it.