By Dharnish Iqbal.
As the dust settles on game-week four of the English Premier League and the players fly off for the international break, it allows time to reflect on the absurdity of the opening weeks of the 2020/21 season.
The extraordinary situation facing the entire world during the COVID-19 pandemic is having a ripple effect on the most unpredictable league in the world, resulting in some bizarre football and eyebrow-raising score lines.
The madness of the Premier League has been kicked up a notch and is in full Super Saiyan mode. Goals, goals, goals is the running theme of the campaign so far with 144 scored in 38 games compared to last season’s 104.
Staggeringly, ten of the 38 games so far have seen six goals or more, with six teams already hitting ten goals or more in the space of four games.
The stats are damning for defences, and suggest a lack of pragmatism or order in matches without fans.
Rounding off the goal-happy start to the 20/21 season were two frantic matchups that saw Manchester United lose 6-1 to Tottenham, and champions Liverpool conceding seven in a 7-2 thrashing by Aston Villa.
To put it into context, the current champions of England and last season’s third-place side conceded 13 goals between them in one weekend.
Both Liverpool and Man United had the first and third best defensive records last season and no one really saw these results coming, despite United playing the majority of the game with 10 men after Anthony Martial’s 28th-minute red card.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have been the most relieved man in the league, as the Liverpool result certainly shifted the focus that would have solely been on United’s dreadful defeat to former manager Jose Mourinho.
It is a season so far where the two best defensive records so far are held by teams who were threatened with relegation for the majority of last year, with West Ham conceding four and Aston Villa a paltry two goals.
Context must be provided. We are only four games into the season and it is highly likely that coaches will use the two weeks to shut up shop, focus on conceding fewer goals, and attempting to find a pattern for the rest of the season. It is never fair to judge a season before there are a good number of games played and sides begin to show where they will be battling as the table takes shape.
The main explanation for the goal-fest boils down to two logical points. The first is the hectic mishmash schedule, thrown together in an extemporary manner due to the pandemic.
The other being that football is still being played without fans, which means games can be played like a training game, with some of the adrenaline and fan interference removed.
No longer can the roar of thousands of passionate football supporters get behind a team and raise their levels, or make a home stadium an advantage.
Tellingly, on the other hand, thousands of fans can no longer get on players backs, dooming them to failure if a mistake is made — something which can also make a football arena an intimidating place for the home team.
It removes the pressure from the players’ shoulders somewhat, and they are able to mirror what they do in training. This has also removed the feeling that games are a big sporting event.
There is less pressure in one on one situations and players are less risk-averse and happy to pull the trigger, resulting in more dangerous situations and more goals.
The jam-packed schedule meant teams have not had a proper pre-season, handing them less time to get used to tactical systems and less time to understand what managers want from them.
Despite there having been only four game-weeks, game-week two and four are already in the top ten matchdays when it comes to the most goals scored.
Liverpool for example, have already conceded 11. The goals conceded painted a telling picture, and many have come from clear defensive errors, poor marking, or deflections.
The best defence and team in the country has been susceptible to fatigue from many minutes of football, and a shortened break have made defences of most Premier League teams more vulnerable. The league is currently an attackers dream, with the plethora of attacking talent taking advantage of the chaos.
Post-lockdown football last season did not result in so many goals or out of character results. It could be argued that when the Premier League restart happened in June, teams were focused on finishing the rest of the season, knowing what they needed to do and were more determined to reach their goals.
Europa League and Champions League qualification was still to play for, as well as the relegation battle going to the wire. Defences performed better as they knew what was at stake, so you could attribute the beginning of the current season to simply an odd beginning.
With the schedule not slowing down and teams basically playing every three days, injuries will certainly take their toll and we may see the goal-happy results continue.