Remember the old perfect starts? Do you remember? The 100% starts. In the old days. The perfect starts. Remember? In 2019, Liverpool won their first six games. In 2018 Liverpool won their first six games. In 2016 Manchester City won their first six games. It was quite the trend, the perfect start, but this season not so much. Everton haven’t won since October 3 and yet they’re still top of the Premier League. Liverpool have been in crisis, and have let in as many goals as Fulham but are second. Is this…. an old-fashioned season? 40 points to survive, 84 points to win the title. Like the olden days. As it stands, it could well be a replica of 1967-68 which was the last campaign to see every team lose at least once inside the first six rounds. The 1960s were a meritocratic decade in English football with eight different clubs winning the title in the decade (Burnley, Tottenham, Ipswich, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Leeds). Seven of those eight have another chance to be champions of England in May 2021, and you could probably make a decent case for at least four or five of them.
School of scientific knocks
Everton’s defeat at Southampton on Sunday saw Lucas Digne sent off, the second game in a row that Carlo Ancelotti had seen his team reduced to 10 men, after Richarlison’s dismissal in the Merseyside derby. The Everton manager called the Digne red card a “joke” and claimed that the club is being harshly treated because of the continued furore over Virgil van Dijk’s ACL. Whether that is the case or not, what we do know is that Everton are the blue bit of their city but a club with a long history of seeing red. The two recent dismissals have taken them to 98 in the Premier League era, and they look set to be the first club to reach three figures (second and third are Arsenal on 93 and Newcastle on 85). Also contained within their history is Slaven Bilic’s 1997-98 campaign when the current WBA manager was dismissed three times. No player has ever been red carded more often in a Premier League season. And last but not least, Ancelotti’s assistant Duncan Ferguson was sent off eight times in his Premier League career, a total only Patrick Vieira and Richard Dunne have ever matched. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Digne’s red at St Mary’s, Everton understand what it means when the referee reaches for his back pocket.
We knew that the Premier League’s outlandish goals per game rate of over 3.5 was extremely unlikely to continue, especially with xG running at a more normal 2.8 per game. Even so, when Patrick Bamford scored a hat-trick on Friday night against Aston Villa it felt like business as usual for 2020-21. What actually transpired, though, was a weekend when only 16 more goals were scored in the remaining nine matches, giving matchweek six a meek goals per game rate of 1.9 that will delight traditionalists who have been left uneasy by the glut so far. No team in the division could match Bamford this weekend, with a quarter of teams failing to score even once. Only one penalty (remember those?) was awarded and the total xG for the round was 19.6, so pretty much exactly reflected the number of actual goals that were scored. Tell everyone you know: things are Back To Normal. In the Premier League at least.
If there was one trend from 2020-21 that did survive the great recorrection of Matchday Six it was the functionality of the last great supply line left in the United Kingdom: Harry Kane to Son Heung-Min. Burnley’s game with Tottenham was on trend in that there weren’t many chances and just a single goal scored, but when that strike came in the 76th minute it was Kane’s eighth assist of the new season in just the sixth match. Seven of them have been for his Korean team-mate, meaning that around 31% of the passes Kane has played to Son this season have been assists. Is that sustainable? No, but with Son having assisted Kane twice this season it does mean that the pair are rapidly closing in on the Premier League record of 36 combinations, held by Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. Kane and Son are now up to 29, although silverware ultras will rightly point out that the Chelsea pair also won many trophies in their time together. That’s something the Tottenham duo are yet to do, although if this level of production continues…
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