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S.P.O.R.T. 2

 

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

The Hangover

Imagine winning 4-0 in a Premier League game and the next time you played you were the champions but you had to go away to one of your main rivals and you lost 4-0? Well yes, you’re right, that does sound very much like Liverpool in July 2020 but it is also the exact storyline of Arsenal’s 1997/98 league triumph, their first under Arsene Wenger.

Back in that pleasantly warm May of ’98, Arsenal sealed the Premier League with a 4-0 win against Everton, including a rare “striker’s goal” (™ BBC report) from captain Tony Adams. Three days later the elated Gunners journeyed up to Anfield for game 37 and promptly lost 4-0 to Roy Evans’ Liverpool, his last solo hurrah as the Reds’ manager before Gerard Houllier arrived that summer. Arsenal then completed their league campaign with another loss, this time to 2019/20 Liverpool’s next opponents Aston Villa. But here’s the thing: many people will mention Arsenal’s title win in 1998 every day but hardly anyone will remember they lost 4-0 to Liverpool in their first game as newly-crowned champions.

Liverpool’s defeat to Manchester City last night wasn’t ideal but it still left Jurgen Klopp’s team 20 points clear at the Premier League summit, a margin that will be a new English record if they maintain it until the end of this campaign. It won’t be long until 2019/20 passes into the history books and the memories of what happened at the Etihad fade into obscurity. Liverpool can still reach 104 points and 34 wins, both of which would be English top-flight records. Scores are temporary, records are permanent.

Winter In July

Football is dominated by the concept of completism, from people trying to visit all 92 league grounds before their perfect record is wrecked by the latest promotion from the National League, to grown adults trying to complete sticker albums during World Cups, ignoring the fact that being adults able to buy as many packs as they like runs utterly against the spirit of the task. Footballers themselves are no exception, so it will surely have delighted Chelsea’s Willian that he became the first Premier League player to score in every single month of the calendar year when he netted twice at West Ham on Wednesday night. A day later Harry Kane matched him by scoring (eventually) at Sheffield United to clock up all 12 months to go alongside his record of scoring on every day of the week and all 29 teams he has ever faced in the Premier League. Forget about your mainstream honours and trophies, in completist terms Kane is the absolute master.

Bruno Masterclass

Everyone has put off some sort of home improvement for ages even though they know it will tangibly improve their life, and it feels very much that the football version of this is Manchester United deciding to wait until the January transfer window to purchase Bruno Fernandes when they could have welcomed him to Old Trafford last summer. Another mega performance from the Portuguese phenomenon at Brighton on Tuesday night has left the midfielder with five goals and three assists in his first eight appearances which even non-specialists will accept works out as 38 goal involvements over a single season. That’s an elite ratio that has been done 19 times in Premier League history (in instances where players have made 20+ appearances). Naturally most of them are strikers, which makes Fernandes’ start at United even more impressive. Assuming he can keep this rate going in the long term, his only peers are Cesc Fabregas with 15 goals and 13 assists in 27 games for Arsenal in 2009/10 and Frank Lampard with 22 goals and 14 assists for Chelsea in the same season. Elite company to be in.

Pen License

If you thought Liverpool’s celebration’s after winning their first league title for 30 years were big then you should have seen Everton’s after winning their first penalty of the season when they played Leicester on Wednesday. The club’s previous spot kick had come in March last year, and with an increasingly dangerous frontline of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin it seemed incredible that the club were the last remaining team in the Premier League this season to get that trademark set-piece opportunity from 12 yards. Had Everton failed to get one for the remainder of the campaign it would have been only the ninth time in the division’s history that a club had gone an entire season without a penalty (the most recent being Burnley in 2017/18 and the most high-profile being Tottenham in 2012/13).

The average number of penalties won by all teams in all seasons of the Premier League is 4.3, while the record high remains at 13, set by Crystal Palace in 2004/05 and Leicester in 2015/16. One of those teams got relegated and the other won the league, proving, well… pretty much nothing.

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