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S.P.O.R.T. 3

 

Welcome to SPORT [Stats Perform’s Overall Review of Things] where we look underneath football’s gleaming exterior to try and work out why what happened, happened and why that other thing didn’t. Or maybe it did and you didn’t notice.

By: Duncan Alexander

Mou Is Less

We all like numbers, right, but sometimes a snapshot doesn’t tell half the story, possibly barely even a quarter. Two superstar managers hit landmarks in matchweek 33, with Jose Mourinho recording his 200th win in the Premier League while Pep Guardiola saw his Manchester City side lose for a ninth time in 2019/20.

On the face of it that looks like a vibe triumph for the Portuguese over the Spaniard, with only Alex Ferguson ever reaching a double century faster than him. But Mourinho did so via Tottenham’s dour, scrappy, ultimately bleak 1-0 win against Everton, further evidence that his project in north London is more existential than progressive. Guardiola, meanwhile, has lost as many league games in one season with City as he did in three campaigns with Bayern, but no-one seriously doubts that he has a plan. The only time Mourinho has lost nine times in a single Premier League season was back in 2015/16 when, as reigning champions, his Chelsea team squeezed those defeats in before Christmas and Mourinho was given the bullet. 200 wins is indeed a big number, but 29% of them came in Mourinho’s first two seasons in England between 2004 and 2006. The graph is still rising, but the curve’s becoming flatter.

 

United Are Back

Manchester United are definitely, 100% back. The club’s latest exhibition of their achingly cool art-project ‘Maybe We Should Have Signed Bruno In The Summer’ saw them demolish Bournemouth 5-2 at Old Trafford. It really was like the old days, as the hapless visitors had the temerity to take the lead, something that in the post-Ferguson era has invariably left the home team toiling to make amends. Not this time, though, as a front four of Greenwood (2), Martial, Fernandes and Rashford all helped themselves to goals. The significance in the scoreline is that it is only the second time that United have scored five goals in a Premier League game since Ferguson’s final game in charge of the club in 2013. In that same period, Manchester City have scored 5+ goals in 26 different league games, a blunt illustration of how the two clubs have diverged in the last decade. The last time United had been out of sorts for so long it took the arrival of a particular player, Eric Cantona, to transform their fortunes and, although it’s very early, it’s beginning to look like Bruno Fernandes could play the same role.

 

First Reserves

What if you were a really good goalkeeper but everyone had forgotten you really existed? Some second-choice keepers, like Claudio Bravo or Adrian, are frequently plunged back into service but others, like Arsenal’s Emiliano Martínez, are performing at a level way beyond most people’s expectations. Martinez is yet to concede a goal in any of the three games he has started since Bernd Leno’s injury and his record of six clean sheets in his first eight Premier League starts for Arsenal is superior to any other goalkeeper to start five or more games for the club.

It’s a similar story at Manchester United where, as David De Gea’s form causes concern, people debate the merits of Dean Henderson replacing him, forgetting or ignoring the fact that Sergio Romero has an astonishing record of six clean sheets in seven Premier League appearances for the club. Romero gives his gloves a good airing in domestic cup and Europa League matches but is rarely considered as a De Gea alternative in league games, even when the Spaniard is in a bad moment. For the likes of Romero and Martinez it’s the very essence of the big club number two paradox. You need to be good enough to come into the starting XI and not let your team down but also the sort of character who doesn’t mind spending most of your days sat in a club rain jacket on the bench watching… and waiting.

 

Room 101

It took Jamie Vardy longer than he’d have liked to reach 100 Premier League goals, but only 13 minutes to start his second century in England’s top-flight. He’s destined to never reach 200, though, not because he isn’t good enough but simply because he started his career at the top level so late in his career. Vardy was almost 28 when he made his debut in the Premier League, with Ian Wright the only player to score 100+ goals in the competition and start at an older age (Wright was already at Arsenal when the Premier League got underway in 1992 and was almost 29 at that point, in fact a lot nearer 29 than 28 but like everyone, he was 28 until he became 29, that’s how it works).

Wright is also the top scoring Premier League player to have scored all of his goals in the 1990s, a period when Vardy was just a schoolboy, but [pivot alert] it’s the biggest teams in the country that have had to learn lessons when facing the Leicester man. Vardy is no flat track bully, scoring nine times against Arsenal, seven against Liverpool and five each against Manchester City and Tottenham. He also has the record for scoring in consecutive appearances locked up with that 11 in a row in 2015, and is one of only two players to have completed the minor celebration double by scoring on Valentine’s Day and Halloween. Truly, an icon for our time.

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