United We Fall
Manchester United and Liverpool have won 39 league titles between them and therefore have hundreds of glorious dates in their history. October 4th 2020 will not be one of them, though. United conceding six at home to Tottenham looked like the day’s main course of Premier League embarrassment but then Liverpool turned up at Villa Park, or rather they didn’t, and shipped seven goals to Dean Smith’s team, the first time the Reds have let in that many in a game since the year the Beatles started releasing records. I don’t know much about the Cavern Club but there’s certainly a big hole behind Liverpool’s defence right now. And if you hadn’t guessed, this was the first time in football’s long history that England’s two most successful clubs had let in 6+ goals on the same day. But hey, this is 2020; this is the new normal.
Tottenham’s five-goal winning margin at Old Trafford means that Manchester United have sunk to a goal difference of -6 this season, which is the lowest figure they’ve ever had within a Premier League campaign, ‘surpassing’ the -4 they enjoyed in August 1992. Manchester City’s draw at Leeds means Pep Guardiola’s side remain on -1, the first time the club has been negative since August 2008. Champions Liverpool are on zero as it stands, their lowest figure since October 2017. Aston Villa, in contrast, are on +9, their best top-flight figure since they concluded the 2009/10 season in sixth place. After a lost, difficult decade, the Villans are categorically back [for now].
An omen on its own doesn’t mean much. So some stuff happened before in a similar way to now? Big deal. But what if the omens pile up like autumn leaves, all pointing you to one concrete conclusion, what then? Here’s the evidence: Everton have won their first four games of the league season since 1969/70, a season when Everton were crowned league champions. This is the first top-flight season to begin in September since 1914/15, a season when Everton were crowned league champions. Manchester United have lost their opening two home games for the first time since 1986/87, a season when Everton were crowned league champions. I mean, it certainly feels like this is Everton’s title to lose now, which is great news for the many Toffees fans around the globe, if not those who remember that Everton were the reigning champions when English football was put on hiatus for both World Wars. Omens, who needs them.
You never miss goalless draws until they’re gone. And they are very much gone. The Premier League hasn’t seen one since July and we’ll head into matchday five in a fortnight in the midst of the first top-flight season since 1964/65 not to see one in the first four rounds of games (with the caveat that two games from matchday one are yet to be played). 1958/59 was the most recent season to go to the sixth round of games before a goalless draw and 1929/30 went to the the eighth, and if this season goes beyond that we’re into the realms of the 19th century. It makes me viscerally nostalgic for the days of Alec Cleland at Everton, a man whose record of 10 goalless draws in 35 appearances makes him the most nil-nilly player in Premier League history.
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