When The Luck Runs Out
Manchester United didn’t deserve to avoid defeat at Leicester on Saturday, what with the home side racking up 2.5 expected goals to United’s 1.1, but the fact that it ended a run of 29 unbeaten Premier League road trips, an English top-flight record, means it got even more attention than it would normally, which, to be fair, is already quite a lot. Tactical shortcomings aside, maybe it was just time for United’s luck to run out, because there were numerous times in that long run when they were fortunate to return to Manchester with their unbeaten record intact. Using expected goals minus expected goals conceded as a proxy for whether they “deserved to lose” or not, the three most fortunate games in the 29-match run were:
- Wolves in August 2021. Minus 1.67, with Wolves having twice as many shots on target as their visitors.
- Brighton in October 2020. Minus 1.00, and a game made famous by a winning penalty scored after the final whistle had been blown. Sounds quite lucky, that.
- Everton in March 2020. Minus 0.96 in a game where the home side had a late winner ruled out, incensing Carlo Ancelotti so much he became the first Premier League manager to be shown a red card.
Reminder That There is no Right Way to Play Football
Three Blanks, One Dream
Not winning any of your opening eight league games isn’t ideal. That, though, is the situation that three Premier League clubs find themselves in: Norwich, Burnley and Newcastle. There are plenty of seasons where not even a single club suffers this fate (random selection: 2017-18, 1997-98, 1901-02) but there are very few seasons where not one, not two but three clubs have remained winless eight weeks in. One of them is 2018-19, when it was Huddersfield, Cardiff and Newcastle, once again. The Magpies stayed up, of course but the other pair did not. The only other instance in England’s long top-flight history is the 1973-74 season when the three clubs were Stoke, West Ham and Birmingham. What’s interesting about that campaign is that none of those slow starting clubs were relegated, with Stoke recovering so well they in fact finished in 5th place and qualified for the UEFA Cup. A huge meaty bone for the “it’s a marathon not a sprint” crowd, there.
0-0, 0-0, 0-0
Norwich drew 0-0 with Brighton on Saturday, with both sides having drawn 0-0 in matchweek seven as well (against Burnley and Arsenal respectively). That sounds quite unusual but we also saw it in March this year when Crystal Palace and Manchester United played out a goalless draw having both done so in their previous game. Before that it happened on New Year’s Day 2015 when Aston Villa and Palace met, and before that in 2010 in a game between Fulham and Wolves. So file under: yeah quite rare but not staggeringly so.
Talking of things that are perhaps less rare than you may think, Jonjo Shelvey’s red card in Newcastle’s ultimately disappointing Sunday afternoon saw him become the 97th player in Premier League history to start the game on the bench and end it having an early bath. Four players have done the sub on/red card combo on two occasions and it’s perhaps instructive of mindsets that at least three of them, Duncan Ferguson, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, are big names who weren’t necessarily used to brooding on the bench, and maybe got a bit overexcited and/or aggressive when chucked into the fray.
In fact that is almost certainly the case with Steven Gerrard when you recall a brief-38 second appearance against Manchester United in March 2015. One of the most famous red cards in Premier League history, perhaps we should focus instead on the fact he made five passes in his minuscule time on the pitch. Pro rata for an entire game that’s 710 passes by one player, which I can exclusively reveal would be Very Rare Indeed.