The first four weeks of the Premier League season have been totally bizarre. We’ve had an incredible 144 goals in just 38 games. We’ve seen the Champions get hammered, Manchester United embarrass themselves, West Ham thrash both Wolves and Leicester and a new breed of football which is totally unprecedented.
What is going on?
It’s hard to wrap our heads around what’s happening but we just can’t get enough of it! In any regular season would you ever have imagined Liverpool to concede seven, and against Aston Villa of all teams? One more Villa goal would have broken the record for the highest number of goals conceded by the reigning champions. Frightening stuff.
You might have somehow felt a Manchester United thumping was on the cards given the club’s current crises, but would you have thought Manchester City would lose 5-2 at home?
We’re not even in the thick of things yet. Everton, yes, Everton, lead the way! They have a 100% record and are followed by Aston Villa in the table, who are also yet to drop points.
If football was hard to predict before lockdown, post-lock down football is a lottery of results. I’m imagining a tuxedo-wearing frog pulling out random numbers from a spinning round cage deciding the score lines. The game’s gone mad!
The factors: Fitness, schedules and fans
We’re only four games in, so fitness levels are still fluctuating. Many teams did not have a proper pre-season under them and are still recovering from the lengthy lockdown period. If you look at the different pre-seasons clubs had, you’ll spot a pattern.
Having been knocked out of the Champions League and the FA Cup, Tottenham allowed themselves to have four pre-season games. They faced Ipswich, Reading, Birmingham and Watford, which though weren’t stern tests, added important mileage.
In contrast, FA Cup winners Arsenal played only one game, facing MK Dons. Both Manchester clubs had no pre-season matches as they endured longer European Cup runs. FA Cup finalists Chelsea played the one game against Brighton.
The traditionally bigger clubs played longer competitive seasons last season, due to the reshuffled cup competition schedules. The rest of the pack enjoyed a small break followed by a proper pre-season.
When Manchester United lost their first home game to Crystal Palace, the gulf in fitness was clear. Palace had four pre-season outings which sharpened them.
This theory can indicate that the gap between the smaller clubs and bigger clubs has decreased. The advantage now lies with the underdogs, and seeing Everton and Villa lead the way is not only refreshing but also good for the competitiveness of the division.
The season is 38 games long, so things will balance out sooner or later. This would mean the run-in will be more intensive than ever and we might have a proper title race once again, with no peloton chasing a lone rider.
The fixture congestion this year will have an effect on the game as the season is being shooed in a shorter period. Injuries will increase and teams will need depth to compete long term. For clubs like Manchester United, who lack any form of defensive depth, this is a worrying sign. While Chelsea and Liverpool will be able to shuffle the pack more after an excellent transfer window. Some clubs evolved quicker than others in this new reality, and it is beginning to show.
Then, last but not least, we also have the fact that the stadia are empty. Fans are the 12th man. Home advantage no longer exists and fans can no longer play their part in encouraging their team. Would Leicester have conceded three in front of a packed King Power? Alternatively, would Leicester have managed to score five at Manchester City? The Etihad is never packed, but would the crowd have helped Pep Guardiola’s men?
Despite all that, a 6-1 drubbing at home sounds all too familiar to Manchester United fans. You can almost hear them think “Why always me?”