If there was a building material associated with matchweek nine in the Premier League, it was wood. Chris Wood scored the only goal in Burnley’s first win of the season against Crystal Palace on Monday evening and it was a strike that took him level with Tim Sherwood on 37 Premier League goals, the two highest-scoring players in the competition with ‘wood’ somewhere in their name. Don’t knock it.
Overall, matchweek nine saw the woodwork hit 13 times, matching the seasonal high seen in the third round of games, aka ‘the one when Brighton hit the frame five times against Manchester United’. This time around it was Leeds who were the unluckiest/most wasteful (delete as per your opinion on the moral hinterland of the goal structure) with three woodwork hits in their goalless draw with Arsenal.
2020/21 has seen the highest rate of woodwork hits in recorded Premier League history with 0.86 per game which makes you wonder whether the lack of crowds has anything to do with it. Does it affect players’ peripheral vision in some way? It doesn’t feel like a definitive answer is on the way but it’s something to keep an eye on as crowds (hopefully) return to games in the next month.
A goal is a goal; there’s no right way or better way to score one, even in a competition as aesthetically committed as the Premier League. That said, Manchester United, who once scored 46 open play goals at Old Trafford in a single season (1999/2000) are five games into their home campaign and have scored that way just once, and that a bleak consolation from Donny van de Beek against Crystal Palace in mid-September.
The Theatre of Dreams has become the Theatre of Vaguely Waiting for a Penalty which is fine, except Liverpool have seemingly recovered from a shaky start and are joint-top, with a laser focus on winning their 20th league title and drawing level with their old rivals. And while United spent the transfer window in a fruitless attempt to sign Jadon Sancho, Liverpool moved quickly for Diogo Jota who already has more open play home goals this season (4) than Manchester United and Manchester City combined (3).
The Wolves and Crystal Palace results on Monday left the middle of the Premier League table in a rare state, with five clubs (Wolves, Man Utd, Palace, Arsenal and Man City) all with a goal difference of -1. It’s not an unusual state of affairs a game or two into a league season but we are now eight/nine games deep and so it is officially unusual. In fact, it’s only happened before twice in English top-flight history: after 36 games in 1992/93, when Liverpool, Leeds, Coventry, Southampton and Wimbledon were all on -1, and after eight games in 1964/65 when Tottenham, Everton, Manchester United, West Brom and West Ham were all on +3.
What does it mean? Well, if the 1960s is regarded as the most egalitarian decade in top-flight history and 1992/93 was a transitional season with Norwich coming third with a negative goal difference then it’s another indication that 2020/21 is an unfamiliar campaign. The top and the bottom of the table may be coalescing into a solid form, but the middle remains very unpredictable.
Four Year Slump
We enter the final week of November and Manchester City have a lower Expected Goals figure this season than Fulham. I didn’t expect that at this stage and neither did you.
City last recorded more than 2.0 xG in a Premier League game back in July against Norwich. Their total of 10.8 so far this season is not quite their lowest rolling eight-game total under Pep Guardiola but it’s getting close. The average across eight Premier League matches in his time at the club is 17.3 with a high of 24.0 in October 2019. A year can be a long time in chance creation metrics. It has been lower than it is right now, with figures of 9.9 and 10.4 in January 2017, but that was Guardiola’s first season at City, with a squad who were still coming to terms with his methods. The fact that City have essentially reached the same point four years on, at the same time Guardiola has signed a contract extension only highlights the fact that for the first time in his managerial career he has to rebuild one of his own teams. How he handles that challenge will be fascinating to observe.
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