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          Do empty stadia explain high-scoring PL games this season?

          ANALYSIS | Goals abound in fan-less football

          2020/10/13 15:15
          By Nathan John
          E0

          The start of the 2020/21 Premier League season has seen an abundance of goals and some whopping defeats for Premier League heavyweights who are normally used to dishing them out. In this article, Playmaker's Nathan John looks at the stratospheric goal-rate and whether the lack of fans is behind the surge. 


          There have been 144 goals scored in 38 Premier League games so far in the 2020/21, an average of 3.79 per game; this is the highest goals per game ratio in an English top-flight season since 1930/31 (3.95 goals per game).

          This season has already seen Manchester City concede five goals in a game, their rivals Manchester United concede six at home to Tottenham, while the reigning champions Liverpool conceded seven to relegation-tipped Aston Villa. 

          There have been five or more goals scored in 11 out of the 38 games played in the Premier League this season, with the likes of Everton, Leicester, Spurs, Chelsea, Villa and Liverpool all having scored ten or more goals in their opening games. So, is there a reason for this and if so what is it? 

          ©Getty / Visionhaus

          Goal glut

          To put these scoring statistics into perspective, after 38 games played last season there had only been 79 goals scored, compared to 144 at the same stage this season, almost double the amount. This continuous period of high-scoring games has led many to start to wonder the reason for this surge in goal-scoring and what factors might be leading to a larger number of goals on the pitch. 

          It is fair to say that without fans being able to attend matches this season the games are somewhat different, for both the players and clubs as a whole. Without atmosphere and encouragement from fans, the flow of games and concentration from players is sure to be affected. If we look back at the first Premier League match to be played behind closed doors back in June, we can compare how different the amount of goals scored were at the end of 2019/20, compared to 2020/21. 

          There were 92 Premier League games played after the resuming of the season on the 17th June. Of the first 38 games played of these, there were 98 goals scored, 46 less than after 38 games played this season. Of these 38 games played after the restart, ten of these games included only one goal or less and three of them ended as 0-0 draws, of which there have been none yet this season. 

          Prem only?

          However, this phenomenon seems to be limited to the Premier League at present - as, if the EFL is factored in, the statistics suggest that a lack of fans has in fact not made much of a difference to the amount of goals being scored overall. A look at the data from across the 92 football league clubs suggests that the number of goals per game pre-lockdown (2.60 from the start of the 19/20 season to lockdown compared to 2.67 since the restart) and the number of nil-nils (7% of games from the start of the 19/20 season to lockdown compared to post lockdown) have remained pretty much constant.

          What is not in dispute is that top flight goals have flooded in this season - players needing time to adapt to the eerie lack of fans possibly explaining the lack of goals after the restart of the Premier League back in June, and the flurry of goals since the start of this season in September. 

          ©Tottenham Hotspur

          A prime example of this is the match that took place between Manchester United and Tottenham, which saw Spurs leave Old Trafford with a remarkable 6-1 victory to their name. With the 'Theatre Of Dreams' boasting a capacity of almost 76,000 and having a reputation for being one of the loudest grounds in the country, it is hard to believe that in a game which saw the home team take the lead, that they would have capitulated to such an extent that they would let in six in front of passionate home support.

          Sure this has happened in the past, with United famously losing by the same score to their neighbours Manchester City back in 2011 at Old Trafford; but the manner in which the team lost the game and appeared to give up on the pitch, would almost certainly suggest that a lack of encouragement and support from the ‘twelfth man’ contributed to the margin of the scoreline. 

          ©Getty / CATHERINE IVILL

          United’s defeat to Spurs is no exception for this season. In the very next fixture that day, the reigning champions Liverpool fell victim to a 7-2 hammering away to Aston Villa. Crystal Palace, meanwhile, also conceded four goals in a half away to Chelsea on that same day and Manchester City did the same at home to Leicester after being level at half-time. 

          Fewer fans, less pressure?

          This view of course can be looked at from multiple angles. While some may argue that a lack of fans could aid a defending team with the pressure being off somewhat to thwart the attacking side; it may well also make it easier for attackers to slot home, without the pressure of the crowd on their back. 

          With players now coming to terms with the concept of fan-less stadiums, having been playing in them since the end of last season in June, what once may have been off-putting for players as they adapted to this new circumstance, may now be aiding them in their quest for success on the pitch; a concept which has led to many even likening current competitive games to training games, without the pressures of the crowd present. 

          As the season progresses and the introduction of fans back into stadiums remains unlikely, fans will have to wait and see if this trend of excessive goal-scoring continues. After all, as Liverpool legend Bill Shankly once said “football is nothing without fans”, and that may now in the literal sense be coming true in stadiums up and down the country, as the trend of high-scoring goals and non-existent defending continues to materialise on the field. 

           

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