Match week two of the 2020/21 Premier League season saw a total of 44 goals, a record for a ten-match Premier League weekend. Sam Broad explores the variety of reasons there have been so many high-scoring matches in this Premier League season.
What is the impact of playing in empty stadiums?
Premier League footballers haven’t had the experience of playing in full capacity stadiums since the start of lockdown in March 2020.
Although, without a player’s admission there is no way of determining the difference in playing in a full capacity stadium compared to one that is empty.
Yet the lack of football fans in a premier league stadium is likely to influence the result of matches for several reasons.
For one, playing without fans can enable a team to play to their true potential. It can encourage teams to play more ambitiously that would have once played risk-free through the fear of making a mistake and receiving hostility from the fans.
There is also less pressure, as playing in empty stadiums indicates that the game is of less importance. Similarly, to pre-season games and friendlies, some players perform better when there isn’t a weighted expectation coming from those in the stands.
Reading FC are likely to have benefitted from playing in an empty stadium, as they are top of the Championship table. In the last three seasons, the Royals have been flirting with the temptation of relegation. Although a new manager is in place, it seems unreasonable to give full credit to Veljko Paunovic because previously the club seemed short of confidence from the boardroom down to the pitch.
On the other hand, teams might not have the belief to hold on to a tight lead. It can be through the energy of the fans, where a team taps into a higher level of performance, that was not initially thought capable of a group of players.
Without fans at football matches, there are no longer external sources in which hold players to a certain standard of performance. This means that each player’s bubble slowly gets smaller, as there is no longer physical feedback outside of those who are part of the management staff.
There is also no longer the magnitude of a home team advantage. This makes every game equal, with an empty stadium not providing an added benefit for the home team. This is what enabled Tottenham Hotspur’s 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United at Old Trafford to take place. It is highly unlikely that in front of a packed Old Trafford, the Red Devils allow for such a scoreline. At half time, perhaps there is the thought to work harder and ensure no more goals are conceded, even if it is from the player’s perspective of avoiding negative criticism from the stands.
How has pre-season affected the start of the season?
The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a disjointed season. The delay of the season meant that the finals of European competitions were not completed until the end of August. This resulted in less time available to focus on the preparation for the start of this season.
Although, the structure of many Premier League teams does not allow for a reassured defence with the attacking nature of modern full-backs. A quick turnaround in pre-season meant that less time could be focused on working on defensive tactics.
The modern game is suited to attacking the opposition, as each team hosts a variety of talented forward options. This coupled with the limited amount of time to organise a reliable structure in defence seems to attain to part of the reason why there were so many high scoring games early in the season.
So, few games in pre-season, also meant that the coaching staff didn’t have many opportunities to progress the style of the team from the previous season. This seems to be true with Sheffield United, who overachieved up until lockdown. Since then Sheffield United’s performances have plateaued, most likely because Chris Wilder hasn’t had much opportunity outside of competitive fixtures to evolve his team.
Less preparation time in pre-season also means that teams can’t focus as intensely on maintaining fitness levels. As premier league football tactics tend to revolve around similar high pressing tactics, a good level of fitness is needed throughout the squad. The Covid-19 pandemic meant that Premier League clubs were training irregularly in isolation. For such high-performance athletes, the level of fitness can drop quite quickly. This has resulted in frequent muscle injuries, as players are struggling to operate at the same work capacity.
Will the goals continue?
Since the Premier League has returned from the latest international weekend, subtle contrast is starting to appear with recent results in comparison to those high scoring games that captured the attention of many early in the season.
The Premier League goals haven’t completed dried up; teams are still scoring on a regular basis. It just appears that the frequency of football matches has caught up with teams. Naturally, alongside the turn of the weather, teams will settle into the season and most likely start to play more conservatively in the run-up to the Christmas period.
The best managers in the Premier League will always maintain the ability to adapt their side to play in the most effective way. If a team concedes a lot of goals, then a top manager should be expected to evaluate the organisation of their defensive structure.
Although it is still possible there will be some high scoring games, it seems unlikely that the Premier League champions Liverpool will be conceding up to seven goals again anytime soon.
With the wealth of attacking talent present in the Premier League, there will be an opportunity for an accumulation of goals to be scored. As the season progresses and teams jostle for specific league positions, based on their league objectives. It seems likely that the occurrence of teams scoring a high quantity of goals in a game will become an anomaly once again, meaning the trend of high scoring games will slowly thistle out.
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