Whilst it is always a mistake to use early season form as a barometer of what is going to unfold during the rest of the season – particularly in current extraordinary circumstances – there is something afoot in the Premier League. With Match Week 4 rounded off by Liverpool’s shellacking at Villa Park, the most eye-catching example amidst the avalanche of goals. With 38 matches completed 144 goals have been scored which works out at an average of 3.79 per game and if that rate continues, a season’s tally of 1,440 would smash the current record to smithereens.
In the very first Premier League season in 1992/93, 1,222 goals were scored but that was in a 22-club division, which meant an extra 82 games, at an average of 2.64. The highest total in a 20-club division was reached two seasons ago when 1,072 were scored at a rate of 2.82. The easiest explanation is to point a finger at the porous defences. A multitude of calamitous mistakes have been made leading directly to goals, such as Chelsea’s concession of three to West Brom in the space of 23 error-strewn minutes.
Some of this slapdash approach may be connected to the lack of spectators in the grounds. With fans in the stadiums there is added pressure whereas playing behind closed doors resembles a practice match and that drop in intensity may well have an impact. Furthermore defenders are probably more relaxed passing out from the back as they do not have anxious fans on their backs.
Then there are the goalkeepers who have not covered themselves in glory. Last season’s Golden Glove winner Ederson has already let in five goals at home to Leicester and was culpable for Leeds’ equaliser at Elland Road when dropping a corner under little pressure. Liverpool clearly felt the loss of Alisson at Villa Park as Adrian is not in the same class and the fact that the Brazilian No.1 could be out for a while will be a cause of concern for Jurgen Klopp.
Looking for a more positive rationale behind the glut of goals is that more teams are playing an attacking style of football with high pressing, committing more players forward. This gung-ho approach inevitably leads to more open matches and a higher number of chances created. However, mere creation of chances is not a guarantee of goals and requires somebody to snaffle up those opportunities. The rich vein of form of strikers is exemplified by Dominic Calvert-Lewin who joins the dozen players, including the likes of Sergio Agüero and Wayne Rooney, who have scored in the first four games of a Premier League season.
Calvert-Lewin is not alone in his prolificacy as Jamie Vardy has proved that age does not wither his scoring prowess. Both have notched hat-tricks and with Mo Salah, Son Heung-min and Ollie Watkins joining the party, there have already been five individual trebles. By contrast, last season it took until Match Week 10 to reach that figure. Watkins’ perfect hat-trick against Liverpool was the 341st in Premier League history and they usually come at an average of 12 per season, the most in a 20-club season was 16 in 1995/96, so there will be more records broken before too long.
It all begs the question whether this glut of goals is actually good for the game? As a curmudgeonly old central defender I rather mourn the days of full backs who concentrated on defending and to whom crossing the halfway line was something you did when swapping ends. If the art of defending is being lost then the value of all these goals raining in is somewhat reduced in my admittedly jaundiced view of football that goals should be created rather than donated.
On the flip side there has not been a goalless draw yet this season and that creates yet another record as previously the 1997/98 season had the longest wait from the opening game. The first goalless draw came in the 18th match while this season there have been double the number of fixtures, with barely a sniff of a shutout. Another reason for so many goals is the proliferation of penalties or as Martin Tyler dubbed it during Spurs’ demolition of Man United ‘a pendemic’ (sic).
The enforcement of the letter of the law regarding handballs has already been covered and apparently the PGMOL have made adjustments for common sense, which proves there is a first time for anything. The spot-kick count is now 24, so again if things continue in the same vein there will be 240 awarded this season. Of the two dozen this season there was the first ever hat-trick of penalties converted by a team in a single match when Leicester handed Pep Guardiola’s a 5-2 mauling at The Etihad. This was also a first for the Spaniard whose teams had never conceded five goals before in his 21-year managerial career.
The fact that three of the biggest defeats have been inflicted on not only City but also Manchester United and Liverpool means that last season’s top three are showing signs of fundamental fallibility at the back. Liverpool became the first Premier League champions to let in seven goals and it was the first time they had done so in any competition since 1963 and over the last two seasons they had let in three goals only three times in the league. Across the entire division not one club has managed to stop their opponents from scoring twice at least once.
While it is unlikely that this goal glut will continue at the giddy levels of the first 38 games in the remaining 9/10ths of the season, the case for the defence has never looked so fragile. Swindon Town fans will be rubbing their hands in glee as the prospect of being the only club to concede 100 Premier League goals could soon be a dishonour they can share with a few others.