Premier League – where are all the goals coming from?

The early-season Premier League goal rush is showing no sign of letting up. The back of the net has been rippled an unprecedented 144 times in the first 38 fixtures of this season – 40 more than at this point last year. Last weekend saw some of the most extraordinary results so far, including an inspired Aston Villa putting seven past champions Liverpool, and Tottenham dismantling a lacklustre Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford.

So, what has caused such a glut of goals? The obvious difference between this and any other season is the lack of fans at matches due to Covid-19 restrictions. The idea that sportspeople “feed off the atmosphere” of the crowd is one of the most frequently touted sporting clichés, and players may find it more difficult to reach their normal level of intensity in empty stadiums. If the defending lacks its normal intensity, forwards may enjoy extra time and space to create big chances. Moreover, taking away the distraction of an excitable crowd might allow attackers to focus more on executing their skills, leading to more clinical attacking play.

Covid-19 is having a broader impact on squads too. Training and team selection are disrupted by regular testing and players having to isolate. Some players are being forced to play out of position, undermining the defensive chemistry that is so important for stopping free-flowing attacks.

There is also the question of the mental and physical state of the players. Because the end of last season was delayed by Covid-19, the break between seasons has been shorter than normal. This has been a double-edged sword that has stopped teams preparing properly for the new season, while the mental and physical fatigue of the last campaign lingers. Add into the mix the mental fatigue that we all share after over six months of lockdown and it is easy to see how players could be affected.

But Covid-19 is not the only new challenge this year. The new stricter handball laws have contributed to a 22 per cent increase in the number of penalties being awarded. However, this rise cannot be explained fully by the extra handballs, so players are clearly committing more fouls in the box – potential evidence of a lack of match fitness and mental sharpness, or perhaps forwards are simply getting better at winning penalties.

This season has seen players faced with an unprecedented set of circumstances and so far, that appears to have produced more exciting, unpredictable results. It might be the spark to reinvigorate a league that has threatened to become dangerously predictable in recent years. It’s only early days, but a top three of Everton, Aston Villa, and Leicester is refreshing to see, and while it is too early for alarm bells at the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, it should serve as a reminder that securing the trophy will be far from a canter.

The showdown between Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, two of the most renowned managers of the modern era, was one of the most hotly anticipated games of the whole season but looking back on yet another weekend of astonishing results it may not even rank among the top three most exciting games. This is the Premier League at its breathtaking best.

Image: K. Stuttard via Pixabay