Reds Fire Blank
Liverpool ended 2020 with a goalless draw at Newcastle United last night, but it still means they end the year just as they started it – sitting at the top of the Premier League table.
It’s been a relatively disappointing festive period for the injured-depleted Reds, with two successive draws against sides that began the day in the bottom six, but if this is their ‘blip’ then it’s not a bad one to have.
Liverpool attempted just six shots on target over their two festive games versus West Brom and Newcastle, which is their lowest tally over two games in the Premier League since October 2018 (four against Manchester City and Huddersfield Town in consecutive matches). In fact, the Reds’ xG total of 1.4 against Newcastle United was their highest in a league game without scoring since April 2018 versus Stoke City (1.93 without a goal).
Opta editor and resident Liverpool expert Michael Reid also researched this astounding statistic to reflect on Liverpool’s first scoreless league game in 2020-21.
Liverpool's starting XI tonight had scored a combined 359 goals for the club. The last time a Liverpool starting XI had as many goals between them going into a game but failed to score was in a 0-1 defeat to Brøndby in October 1995 (566 goals). #LFC #NEWLIV
— Michael Reid (@michael_reid11) December 30, 2020
Mohamed Salah failed to score last night, despite having two shots worth 0.91 xG overall. In only two league games during his career at Liverpool has Salah had a higher xG total without scoring: 1.01 against Leicester City in October 2019 and 0.92 versus Huddersfield Town in October 2017. Despite this blank he still finished as the top scoring player in the Premier League in 2020 with 23 goals, five ahead of Bruno Fernandes (18).
As Manchester United versus Wolves drifted fairly aimlessly it looked like it would be a rare Premier League game without some sort of scoring or creative contribution from Bruno Fernandes, but then in injury time his ball to Marcus Rashford was eventually tucked home to give United a massively important win, one that took them second in the table. Are they genuine title contenders under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Maybe, and if so, Fernandes’s sheer consistency will be the reason why. 18 goals and 14 assists in 29 appearances in the English top-flight means he is the only regular player in Manchester United’s Premier League history to offer goals+assists at a rate of more than one per game. The sheer quality of the four players immediate below him in that table (below) only serve to illustrate how much of an impact Bruno has had so far, and how much he could have in the remainder of 2020-21.
92:51 – Manchester United’s late goal through Marcus Rashford was their latest winning goal in a Premier League game at Old Trafford since September 2009, when Michael Owen scored after coming off the bench against Manchester City (95:27). Saviour. pic.twitter.com/L9Fkis8KGd
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 29, 2020
The latest test for Sam Allardyce’s application of pragmatism at The Hawthorns was Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds on Tuesday evening, and it didn’t go well. The visitors were 4-0 up by half time, adding another in the second period to inflict one of Big Sam’s worst ever Premier League reversals. the 5-0 scoreline also means that Leeds have both scored and conceded 30 goals in their opening 16 matches this season. If that sounds rare in the modern game then that’s because it is. The Yorkshire side are the first top-flight team to do it since Southampton, Watford and Luton did so in the 1980s. We should also take our hat off to Wolves for doing it in 1970-71 because that remains the lowest scoring season in English top-flight history. The ultimate target for Bielsa and Leeds is surely the all-time combined goals scored and conceded record, set by Aston Villa in 1930-31, with a total of 206 goals (F128 A78).
At Burnley Sheffield United lost for the 14th time in 16 outings in the Premier League this season, leaving the Blades not only firmly rooted to the bottom of the table but also new owners of the worst start at this stage of a top-flight season. For well over a hundred years that dubious honour was held by Bolton Wanderers who had only three points after 16 matches in 1902-03 but now Chris Wilder’s once-surprise package of 2019-20 have claimed it. Yet it could all be so different, with 11 of the defeats this season coming by a single goal margin, including the game at Burnley. The record for single goal defeats in a single Premier League season is 15, by Bolton and QPR in 1995-96 and Manchester City and Sunderland in 2005-06. Of those, only City avoided the drop and it is looking like only a miracle will allow Sheffield United to escape what now looks like bring one of the club’s least productive seasons. Derby’s Premier League record low of 11 points, set in 2007-08, seems very much in play.
25 – Sheffield United’s Oliver Burke hasn’t ended on the winning side in any of his first 25 appearances in the Premier League – the longest winless start to a player’s career in the competition (overtaking Gareth Bale’s 24 apps). Ouch. pic.twitter.com/Kwc5ZKxCjr
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 29, 2020
A Frank Discussion
Another laboured performance from Chelsea means that they are now six points behind leaders Liverpool, with the Reds having the chance to make that nine points with a game versus Newcastle United on Wednesday.
After a summer of spending, it’s been a disappointing start to the league campaign for the Blues. Since becoming manager at the start of last season, Frank Lampard has averaged just 1.70 points per game in the league, which is among the lowest of Chelsea managers to take charge of 20+ games in the competition.
Considering the criticism that Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has endured for poor performance, it may be surprising to learn that the Red Devils (93 in 52 games) have won a point more than Chelsea since August 2019, having played two games fewer than the Blues.
Chelsea’s goalscorer on the night was once again Olivier Giroud, who scored for a second successive Premier League game and took his December tally to three goals in four appearances. His strike was his ninth against Villa in the competition and meant that he’s now scored in seven successive league games against the Villans.
9 – Olivier Giroud has scored in each of his last seven Premier League appearances against Aston Villa, netting nine goals in total in this run. Against no side has the Frenchman scored more Premier League goals than he has vs the Villans (9). Routine. pic.twitter.com/qFnyiKtKJK
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 28, 2020
The Frenchman has been a reliable source of goals for Frank Lampard since the former midfielder took charge of the club, with only Tammy Abraham (26) netting more in all competitions than he has (19).
Of players to have scored 10+ goals for a Premier League club in competitive action since the start of 2019-20, only Sergio Agüero (94 minutes) has a better minutes per goal ratio than Giroud (105 minutes), emphasizing the impact that the striker still has on the pitch at Chelsea despite his advancing years.
For Villa, it was another great point won for them in what has been a successful season so far. They are level on points with Chelsea in the Premier League table, despite playing two games fewer.
Since the return of top-flight football on June 17th following the Covid-19 enforced break, Aston Villa have picked up 36 points from 24 games, which is three more than Arsenal from a game less.
Another game, another penalty won for Leicester City. Unfortunately for the Foxes, on this occasion that penalty kick was missed by Kelechi Iheanacho in their 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.
It’s now 10 penalties won in 16 Premier League matches for Leicester in 2020-21, a new record for the fewest number of games into a season to hit double figures. Three of those penalties came in a single game this season at Manchester City – another Premier League record, as we detailed here.
10 – Leicester City have been awarded their 10th penalty in their 16th game of the season, the earliest a team has been awarded as many penalties in a Premier League campaign, surpassing Blackburn's 25 games in 1994-95. Spotted. pic.twitter.com/enfLbn1ZNH
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 28, 2020
In fact, Brendan Rodgers’ side have now won twice as many penalties as any other English top-flight team in 2020-21 and are just three off their record tally in a single Premier League season; 13 in their title-winning 2015-16 campaign.
The overall Premier League record was set last season by Manchester United, with the Red Devils winning 14 penalties – a tally that looks attainable for the Foxes, considering they still have 22 games to play this season.
Big Sam, Big Point
West Bromwich Albion will accept that they didn’t offer a footballing masterclass at Anfield on Sunday, but they won’t care one bit.
The Baggies completed just 121 passes, which equalled a Premier League low from 2020-21 but they still attempted more shots on target (3) than the reigning Premier League champions Liverpool (2). This was the first time in nearly three years that an opponent has attempted more shots on target than the Reds at Anfield in a Premier League fixture since Spurs had six to Liverpool’s three in February 2018.
The last time that Liverpool attempted fewer shots on target in a league game at Anfield was back in April 2017 against Crystal Palace (1) – their last home defeat in the competition.
This result meant that Sam Allardyce picked up his first point at West Bromwich Albion manager and it was his sixth overall at Anfield against Jurgen Klopp. No manager has won as many points as the experienced Englishman at the home of the Reds during Klopp’s reign.
Bus Out of Action
Tottenham Hotspur threw away another lead late on in their 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers after attempting to cling on to a first minute goal from Tanguy NDombele.
Jose Mourinho was accused of parking the bus at Molineux Stadium and the stats certainly side with that accusation. Spurs attempted just five shots after the opening goal and put in a miserable attacking display in the second half, which saw them attempt just a single shot from a direct free kick with a miserly xG value of 0.05.
This performance hasn’t come out of the blue, with December being a quite miserable month for Tottenham. Following a great start in the opening week thanks to a 2-0 derby win against Arsenal, Spurs found themselves top of the table on goal difference. Since then, a record of two draws and two defeats in the corresponding four matches has seen them drop to fifth and six points off Liverpool.
VARching on Together
Leeds United picked up a 1-0 home win over Burnley in Sunday’s early game, thanks in part to some kind VAR decisions. Ashley Barnes had strong claims of a legitimate goal chalked off, after Leeds United had won a controversial early penalty kick.
That penalty was dispatched by in-form Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford, who became the sixth player to reach double figures in the Premier League this season but the first from a newly promoted side.
10 – Only three players have scored more goals than Patrick Bamford (10) after 15 games of a Premier League season for a newly-promoted side – Alan Shearer in 1992-93 (12), Andy Cole in 1993-94 (15) and Kevin Phillips in 1999-00 (13). Respect. pic.twitter.com/WhPD5rjlXC
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 27, 2020
As Opta’s UK editor Jonny Cooper pointed out, Bamford joins a very illustrious list of Leeds’ players to score 10 top-flight goals at the club in the quickest time.
Only six players have scored 10 top-flight goals for Leeds United in fewer games than Patrick Bamford (15). The other nine to take 15 or fewer matches scored a combined 371 goals for Leeds in the top-flight. Some great company with Bamford here. #lufc pic.twitter.com/UzgtkTfa8s
— Jonny Cooper (@JRCooper26) December 27, 2020
50 Up for Rashford
Not content with heroic actions off the pitch this year, Marcus Rashford scored his fifth goal in as many Premier League games during Manchester United’s 2-2 draw at Leicester City.
The English striker scored a goal to take him to 50 in the competition overall and in doing so became the third youngest player to reach this tally for the Red Devils. Only Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo have managed to reach 50 Premier League goals at a younger age for United.
Overall, Rashford becomes the seventh youngest to reach 50 Premier League goals. Robbie Fowler holds the record, with the striker aged 20 years and 252 days when he hit the half century – four days ahead of former Liverpool teammate Michael Owen (20 years, 256 days). The last player to hit 50 goals in the competition at a younger age than Rashford was England captain Harry Kane, who was just 12 days younger than Rashford at the time of reaching the landmark (24 years, 44 days).
Villans Raid the Palace
Despite playing the entire second half with 10 men and holding a fragile 1-0 lead at the time Tyrone Mings was dismissed in the 45th minute, Aston Villa put on one of the most exciting attacking displays seen in the Premier League this season.
4.4 – Despite playing with 10 men for the entirety of the second half, Aston Villa amassed an expected goals total of 4.4 against Crystal Palace, the highest single-game return for any side in the Premier League this season. Undeterred. pic.twitter.com/EBbJpbnu4k
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 26, 2020
Dean Smith’s side attempted 21 shots with a cumulative Expected Goals total of 4.41: the highest seen by a team in a single Premier League game this season. The xG total in the second half alone was 1.92 despite having 10 men, which is more than Wolves, West Brom and Burnley have managed in any full Premier League game in 2020-21.
Ollie Watkins attempted 10 shots in this match and had 1.46 xG alone but failed to score for Aston Villa. He became the first player in over three years to attempt as many as 10 shots in a Premier League match without scoring a goal, with Harry Kane’s 10 shots without a goal versus Brighton in December 2017 the last occasion this happened.
Xmas Cheer for Gunners
Following a 3-1 victory over Chelsea, Arsenal recorded their first win in eight Premier League matches and their first at the Emirates since a 2-1 win over Sheffield United back in October.
60% of their Premier League victories this season have come against fellow London sides and as a result the Gunners might actually win a title this season, as London derby leaders.
WE. ARE. TOP OF THE LEAGUE…. pic.twitter.com/jwWqfSpK84
— Tom Ede (@TomEde1) December 26, 2020
This match also saw Frank Lampard haul off Timo Werner at half-time, with the German now failing to score in 10 successive competitive appearances. This is his longest goal drought since a run of 12 matches between March and September 2016 across spells at Stuttgart and RB Leipzig.
Werner had set the German Bundesliga alight last season with 16 goals in his first 15 appearances of 2019-20 with RB Leipzig. This season he’s netted just four times in 15 Premier League appearances and pressure is building on the 24-year-old German striker to produce the goods in front of goal at Stamford Bridge.
Joy on the Mersey
Following Everton’s 1-0 victory against bottom side Sheffield United on Boxing Day, the top two in the Premier League table consist of the two Merseyside rivals at the end of the day.
This is the first time that this has been the case this late into a top-flight league season since the final day of the 1986-87 campaign, when Everton won their last league title with a nine-point cushion over Liverpool.
In only one Premier League season have Everton accumulated more points from their opening 15 matches than they have so far in 2020-21 (29), with their 30 points in 2004-05 at this stage enough to see them secure their best-ever Premier League finish (4th place).
15 – In Premier League history, only QPR in 2012-13 (16 matches) have endured a longer wait for a victory from the beginning of a season than Sheffield United this campaign (15, D2 L13). Dusted?
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 26, 2020
Everton’s victory meant that it was another grim day for Sheffield United this season, with Chris Wilder’s side needing to pick up a victory away at Burnley on Tuesday to avoid replicating a Premier League record.
Enjoy this? Subscribe to The Analyst to receive five stories each Friday from Stats Perform. It’s free.