There was widespread and justified excitement on Saturday morning when Burnley’s team sheet for their game at Liverpool was published. As confirmed by the excellent @squadnos, Sean Dyche was the first manager to select a Premier League side with each squad number from one to 11 represented since Charlton Athletic did it on August 22, 1998, a gap of 8,400 days. Such a big gap, in fact that three of the players who started at Anfield (Harvey Elliot, Dwight McNeil and Trent Alexander-Arnold) hadn’t been born as Charlton romped to a 5-0 home win against Southampton. Some people will correctly remember this as the “Clive Mendonca hat-trick game”, others will continue to incorrectly think that he scored his only ever Premier League hat-trick on the opening weekend.
What happened next? Charlton brought Steve Brown (number 12) into their starting XI for their third match, a respectable 0-0 draw away at league champions Arsenal (one of the four clubs to first wear numbers on their shirts, back in August 1928), but they ended the season in 18th place and were relegated. Tradition is nice and everything, but the near future matters more. Burnley have lost two out of two so far and unless the league start handing out bonus points for chronologically pleasing line-ups, they could be facing a season as difficult as Charlton did 23 years ago.
Wrong Feels Right
Romelu Lukaku wasted little time in confirming Chelsea had signed “the Serie A Romelu Lukaku” as he tormented Arsenal on Sunday via a devasting eight shots and three key passes. His goal came with his right foot, technically his weaker limb, and took him clear of two former Arsenal forwards (true) into fourth place in the all-time list of Premier League top scorers with their weaker foot. A category led for some time now by Robin van Persie, it looked like Sergio Aguero was nailed on to overtake him but now seems like a race between Lukaku and Harry Kane (incidentally the two top-scoring Premier League players born after the competition began in 1992) to leapfrog RVP.
And to answer the inevitable question that always comes when we update this ranking, yes Alan Shearer only scored 20 of his 260 Premier League goals with his left foot. And yes, Robbie Fowler just misses out on the top six with 30 right-footed goals. And yes, Ian Marshall still has the highest matching left and right totals with 10 of each. Reason enough for a picture of his era-defining mane? Yes.
Relegation feels bleak when it happens, but longer term it can offer just the sort of reboot a club needs. As it stands, Fulham and West Brom are the top two in the Championship, Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe are the top two in League One and Swindon are occupying one of the League Two promotion spots. As Alan Partridge once pointed out in a petrol station, “people bounce back.”
West Brom are a case in point. Fully revitalised under new manager Valérien Ismaël, they created chances worth 4.02 expected goals away at Blackburn on Saturday. That’s the second highest total in a single league game in England this season, and that one game represents 11% of their entire total in the Premier League in 2020-21. Yes, this is a different league, but it’s also a different coaching team and a different mindset. So far the results are more than promising.
19 games into the 2021-22 and it’s time to take a look at how and where goalkeepers are taking their goal kicks and play the popular game “can we sense a manager’s approach from an incredibly specific dataset™?”
Some trends that stand out:
- Patrick Vieira has installed a ‘continental’ system at Crystal Palace, with Vicente Guaita leading the cumulative ranking for goal kicks played to a teammate within the penalty area. Why is it continental to do this? It just is.
- You can’t get more continental than being champions of Europe and so Chelsea ‘keeper Edouard Mendy’s 100% inside the box rate is stylistically correct. One of the best passing goalkeepers in the division, Mendy refuses to play on easy mode and saves his raking deliveries for open play only.
- Alex McCarthy loves looking for Moussa Djenepo and Adam Armstrong. Loves it.
- The England national team’s two senior goalkeepers, Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope have played just two short goal kicks between them. Heritage is important.
- Do you think Alisson is more trusting of the full back he has played lots of games with?
- Ederson: always doing things differently. 40 years ago, that would have been the map of a goalkeeper with a groin strain who couldn’t kick the ball very hard. Times have changed.
At this point last season Leicester City were top of the Premier League with two wins out of two and seven goals. Life was good, and Brendan Rodgers’ side duly spent the vast majority of the campaign in the top four, before slipping to fifth in the closing stages. 11 months on and West Ham are top of the Premier League with two wins out of two and eight goals. What does this admittedly tiny dataset tell us about the season to come?
Firstly, just 180 minutes into the season, it is already incredibly unlikely that West Ham are going to get relegated. If we take the entirety of English top-flight history then only one team in Our Sport’s long story has started with two wins, 8+ goals and gone down. That club are Newcastle United, who began 1960-61 with a 3-2 win at Preston North End and then a 7-2 home win against Fulham. Was this to be the club’s first league title since 1927?? No, they came 21st and went down with Preston.
Secondly, seven of the last eight teams to start this well have ended the season in the top four, the exception being Swansea in 2012-13 (aka the Michu season), after they started with a 5-0 win at QPR and a 3-0 win against, oh, West Ham. The Welsh side still ended the season in ninth, but that would feel like a step backwards for David Moyes side. Not many recent eventual league champions have begun this well, by the way, with the last three to do it being Manchester City in 2018-19, Manchester United in 2006-07 and then Burnley all the way back in 1959-60.
In truth, another sixth place doesn’t feel wildly outlandish for West Ham this season, but with three cup competitions to aim at and performances like Monday night’s against Leicester as a benchmark, the journey should be at least as enjoyable as the ultimate destination.
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Design by Matt Sisneros.