Playmaker draws statistical inspiration from the season so far...

          2019/20 Yearbook | August-September

          2020/03/24 14:11
          By Stephen Gillett

          With extra time (of a strange and unwanted sort) on our hands, Playmaker has decided to produce a series of in-depth articles that divide the 2019/20 season into stat-friendly installments...that we like to call months. 

          There's no particular rhyme or reason to the topics we've focused on - other than that they're hopefully interesting. 

          Let's dive in by casting our minds back to the start of the season when nets found their way back onto goalframes, pristine footie socks were introduced to new mouldies - and that monster graze on your upper thigh was just around the corner. 

          August - September 2019/20

          The Community Shield: do you really want to win it?

          It makes sense to kick off, as the season does, with the Community Shield fixture - won this year by Man City who beat Liverpool 5-4 on penalties, after an entertaining 1-1 draw, to bag the Shield for a second successive season. 

          However, a quick trawl back through the Community Shield winners since the start of the Premier League era (aka from 1992/93) suggests that perhaps Pep Guardiola should have told his Sky Blues to sky their penalties - as only EIGHT out of 28 winners (29%) of the early season showpiece have gone on to win the Premier League. Which struck us as surprisingly low, although admittedly City had done it the previous season in 2018/19. 

          The only teams to manage the feat since 1992/93 are Manchester United on five occasions, Chelsea on two and the Citizens as already mentioned. 

          Conclusions to draw? What was already dismissed by many as a meaningless friendly is also a poor indicator of who is likely to win the Premier League in the coming season. 

          ©Getty / IAN KINGTON

          It's a process...

          If you were somehow teleported back to August with no memory of what was to come, a world where Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs project burned to the ground would seem almost as unlikely as a global pandemic.

          Spurs' journey from supporting actors to main players under Pochettino was mightily impressive - bordering on the miraculous given their limited transfer activity and simultaneous construction of a state-of-the-art stadium. Yet, by mid November last year, Poch was out and José Mourinho was being unveiled at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. 

          The fault lines pre-dated last summer's Champions League final - but Tottenham's uninspired defeat to Liverpool in Madrid was the tectonic shift. 

          Looking back, expecting Tottenham and Pochettino to easily swallow the bitter pill of losing a Champions League was naive. Historically, English runners-up in a European Cup final have often suffered a hangover after glory has slipped through their grasp...Liverpool an obvious and hugely impressive exception after their 2017/18 defeat to Real Madrid (although they didn't win anything domestically in 2018/19). 

          Only the Reds, in fact, have ever won the English top flight (in 1985/86) after losing the final of Europe's elite competition. Tottenham's fall from grace has been swift, but they are certainly not the first burned by Champions League tragedy...did Arsenal's defeat to Barcelona in 2005/06 mark the beginning of the end under Arsene Wenger?

          The Paul Pogba Paradox

          If you were to talk about juries being out on Premier League players at the start of the 2019/20 season, you would be hard pressed to find a more controversial figure than Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba. A rare talent capable of winning games on his own...or a PR disaster-in-waiting whose lack of focus and gargantuan ego are symptomatic of everything wrong at a fallen institution? Discuss.

          As it turns out, Pogba's season has been an injury-plagued one: the Frenchman playing a total of just eight games across all competitions for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2019/20. 

          With United finally starting to get their act together and a new Sheriff in town, in the form of Bruno Fernandes, we thought we'd take a quick look at how United have fared with and without Pogba since his return to Old Trafford in 2016/17 - and the results make for interesting reading. 

          United won 59% of their games with the Frenchman in their line-up in his first two seasons, but that tailed off to 49% last term. A 25% win percentage with the midfielder on the park is inconclusive this season given his limited involvement, but is hardly encouraging. 

          In fact, over the course of the last four seasons, United have a higher win % (61%) and a lower loss % (19%) WITHOUT Pogba. Food for thought, Ole...


          Let's bung the Premier League to one side and turn our attentions to EFL fascinations.

          When the 2019/20 season sprang into life, two EFL clubs stood on the brink of (as far as we can tell...) an unprecedented feat: three successive promotions across the top five tiers of English football. 

          Luton had romped to consecutive automatic promotions in League Two (2017/18 in second) and League One (2018/19 as champions), while Tranmere Rovers had rolled the dice in the National League (2017/18) and League Two (2018/19) play-offs and come up trumps both times.

          Would they, could they go back-to-back-to-back? Unsurprisingly the answer was 'No': the Hatters (23rd in the Championship) and Rovers (21st in League One) both mired in the relegation places at the time of writing.

          Playmaker has scoured the archives for evidence of a team marching up three divisions in the same number of seasons, and - in this case - history is yet to be made in English football. However, the now defunct Gretna managed to do it north of the border between 2004/05 and 2006/07 when they eloped from Scotland's Third Division to its First in the space of 108 games (with a goal difference of +198!).

          Wimbledon remain arguably the best example of a team soaring up the English football ladder, the Dons going from the old Fourth Division to the First between 1982/83 and 1985/86 taking only a short pit stop in the second tier. A few seasons later and they incredibly beat Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final - long live Lawrie Sanchez! 

          ©Getty / Christopher Furlong

          'The 91'

          Despite earning promotion to League One in 2018/19, it was clear that all was not well behind the scenes at Bury last summer - the Shakers unable to pay the players who had taken them up to the third tier. 

          After the failure of a late takeover bid, and with questions swirling regarding how owner Steve Dale was ever deemed 'fit and proper', Bury were expelled from the Football League on 28 August 2019 to become the first team to drop out of the EFL since Maidstone's liquidation in 1992. 

          Bolton almost followed suit, but were saved from liquidation with the clock ticking. Starting their League One campaign with a 12-point deduction has proved insurmountable for Wanderers, but their fans will at least have a club to follow in League Two next season. 

          Here are a list of teams to fall out of the Football League since the turn of the millenium...

          Turning - into +

          A final EFL-related morsel for you, Stat Fans - this one rather tenuously linked to the start of the 2019/20 season.

          We had a flick through the league tables at the end of the month of August to see which teams were highest-placed with the lowest goal differences - and it turns out that Crewe Alexandra were third in League Two after Matchday Six on 31 August 2019...with a neutral goal difference of 0. 

          Alex have since risen to the summit of the fourth tier with a very healthy G/D of +24, but it got us thinking about teams promoted with low goal differences. And it turns out there have been some exceptional league campaigns over the past decade - where dodgy goal differences have failed to derail successful promotion bids. 

          The stand-out candidates are Huddersfield Town - who ascended from the Championship to the Premier League in 2016/17 despite finishing the regular season with a G/D of -2. What made the Terriers' success even more unlikely was that they did not win a single game and scored only one goal (an own goal!) in the play-offs. When it's your year, it's your year...

          And finally...some Europa League appreciation

          Even before the domestic season got started, the Europa League qualifiers were on the go - Wolves slogging their way through them while Wanderers' Premier League counterparts were still easing into pre-season. 

          Now in the last 16, Wolves' commitment to the Europa League looks to have paid off, and it is noticeable how elite English clubs have hastily revised their opinions on the competition since the rule change that handed its winner a place in the following edition of the Champions League.

          Those who fail to qualify from the UCL group stages now parachute into the Europa League's last-32 knockout phase...and you can be sure all the big guns have their eyes on the prize in the latter stages. 

          Where previously it was Fulham, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and even Bolton going deep in the competition between 2000-2010, the Europa League is now being stalked by bigger Premier League predators - and, if and when this season gets back under way, Wolves and/or Manchester United look good bets to reach the final. 

          That's your lot for August-September; we'll take a quick breather and then chisel out the next installment: focusing on stats derived from the September-October period of the 2019/20 season. 

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