Villa Thriller Mega Filler
100% Aston Villa. Aston Villa 100%. Whatever happens in the next few weeks, Villa will be the last team in the top four English divisions this season to drop points. Four out of four, the best defence in the division, the only team to have a goal difference in double figures. No-one, not even Dean Smith at his most bullish, could have foreseen this, but Villa can already look back on a successful 2020/21 season after just four matches. Why? Well, no team in English top-flight history have ever been relegated after starting a season with four wins. So, Aston Villa will be a Premier League club in 2021/22, that much we know.
A top-half finish seems likely too, with only Charlton in 2005/06 and Watford in 2018/19 finishing below halfway after taking 12 points from their first four games. In fact, the lowest a team has finished after beginning with four wins is 15th, which has been done three times, including by Aston Villa themselves in 1900/01. Just a few weeks into the new season and 15th next spring would almost feel like failure to this team. And according to the numbers, it pretty much would be.
Zero Lucks Given
We’re a reasonable way into the season and both Liverpool and Manchester City have a goal difference of zero. Using the same amble through history we did for Aston Villa above, what does this mean for the current Big Two of English football? Well, Liverpool, five games in, should be aware that 17 teams have gone down having had a goal difference of zero at this stage, five of them coming in the Premier League era, although the last team to do so having scored 10+ goals are Sheffield Wednesday in 1937. On the other hand, nine teams have gone on to win the title having scored and conceded the same number of goals in their first five matches, including Liverpool in 1947 and, most recently, Derby County in 1975.
Only five teams have won the league having had a goal difference of zero after four games, as Manchester City currently do, but two of them are recent, in the form of Manchester United in both 2007/08 and 2008/09. Across the past two seasons, Liverpool and City have posted a combined goal difference of +258 so if you want yet another example of how unusual this season has been so far, this is more than reasonable.
If Aston Villa are the team who have started best, then Harry Kane is the individual who has loomed over 2020/21 like a revamped numbers monster. An assist and two goals against West Ham on Sunday took him to 12 goal involvements (5G 7A) in his team’s first five games of the season, overtaking Thierry Henry’s Premier League record of 11 in 2004/05. Henry that season also had seven assists at this stage and it’s interesting to speculate that after midfielders Cesc Fabregas, Mesut Ozil and (especially) Kevin De Bruyne all got close to surpassing Henry’s record of 20 assists set in 2002/03, might it be another striker that finally does it. To put Kane’s surge in creativity into context, 26% of his career assists in the Premier League have come in the last 30 days.
Theory: Chelsea’s defence in the Frank Lampard as manager era is not as effective as it was in the era of Frank Lampard the player. His side’s 3-3 draw with Southampton on Saturday took him to 63 goals conceded in 43 matches as the club’s head coach. That’s 1.47 goals per game which puts him 81st out of 127 managers to take charge of 40+ Premier League games. People with the same or very similar defensive records to Lampard as it stands include Joe Royle, Ian Branfoot, Dave Bassett and Alan Pardew.
Lampard’s points per game rate of 1.72 is significantly above those others, mainly because of the attacking quality he has available but think how much higher Chelsea would be if they could just defend like a Glenn Roeder team (1.40 goals conceded/game) or a Brian Horton team (1.35) or a Trevor Francis team (1.29).
Defending: it’s useful.
Monday evening finally saw the first goalless draw of the season, 47 games in, as West Brom and Burnley contested the Jay Rodriguez clásico at the Hawthorns. Now your immediate reaction to this was “oh of course, of course it was WBA and Burnley, who else?” But you are mistaken, these are not the teams you think they are. The only two current Premier League teams to have seen more than 10% of their all-time games in the competition end 0-0 are Leeds United (hashtag George Graham) on 10.8% and Aston Villa on 10.4%. West Brom and Burnley are 31st and 33rd respectively, below the likes of Arsenal (hashtag George Graham) and Liverpool.
The only Premier League team never to draw 0-0? Barnsley. I’m pleased for them.
Enjoy this? Subscribe to The Analyst to receive five stories each Friday from Stats Perform. It’s free.