Welcome to The Data Day, our rolling football stats blog for 2021-22, where we try and make sense of what just happened.

October 24

The Red Wedding

We all witnessed a massacre at Old Trafford this afternoon, with Liverpool destroying their rivals Manchester United 5-0. The only surprise is that it wasn’t more, with Jürgen Klopp’s side five goals to the good after only 50 minutes.

Mohamed Salah (who else?) was the star of the show yet again, becoming the fifth player to score a Premier League hat-trick against United – and no, Egil Østenstad isn’t included (the Premier League dubious goals panel of 1996-97 decided he only scored two that day, although he did once send us a picture of the match ball, so he remains the moral winner.)

Hat-tricks against Manchester United in the Premier League

In scoring three goals, Salah became the first away player to score a competitive treble at Old Trafford against Manchester United since Ronaldo (not that one) for Real Madrid in an April 2003 Champions League encounter. He took his personal run of scoring for the Reds to 10 games – a club record he already held at nine games following his midweek brace at Atletico Madrid.

If Ole Gunnar Solskjær was feeling the heat before this game, then he’s now closer to the sun than Icarus ever got. This 5-0 defeat was their heaviest ever at home to Liverpool, while the club hadn’t lost by a five-goal margin at home since February 1955 (5-0 vs. Man City), before today. United have only lost by a larger margin in this fixture in October 1895 when Liverpool beat them 7-1 at Anfield.

To compound United’s misery, they were reduced to 10 men when Paul Pogba decided recklessness was the only response to the beating on the pitch. This was their 10th red card against Liverpool in the Premier League, taking the tally of reds in this fixture to 17 overall – the only fixture with more red cards in the competition is Everton vs. Liverpool (22).

This was just the fifth time that Manchester United have lost by a margin of five goals in a Premier League game, all of those coming in October, weirdly. 5-0 defeats against Newcastle (1996) and Chelsea (1999) were followed by the 6-1 loss to Man City nearly 10 years to the day of this thrashing (2011). Only last year did they suffer a 6-1 loss at home to Spurs in the Premier League, before this harsh lesson from Liverpool today.

Earlier this week, we compared the records of Klopp and Solskjær after 105 games and realised that game 106 of the German’s reign at Liverpool was the turning point. We asked if it could be the same for Solskjær. The answer looks like being: Yes, it could be the turning point – but the outcome will surely be very, very different for the Norwegian.


Hammered Out of Shape

West Ham beating Spurs should probably not come as a shock. They finished above them in the table last season after all, and with this victory they leapfrogged their London rivals in the current standings.

It should also come as no surprise that Michail Antonio scored the winner. With a sixth goal against Spurs in the Premier League, he’s scored more against them in the competition than versus any other opponent. Four of these goals have been scored in one-goal victories – a man for the occasion.

Antonio’s recent Premier League career upturn has been talked about many times before, but his goal record across the last 16 months has been nothing short of spectacular. Since July 2020, Antonio has helped himself to 24 goals and an additional nine assists to record 33 goal involvements in 41 Premier League appearances – a rate of a goal or an assist every 99 minutes.

The player with the most goal involvements in the Premier League over this period? That would be Harry Kane (45), although that might come as a surprise to some considering his form across the 2021-22 campaign to date.

Kane mustered just one shot today and didn’t score with that strike. Following this match, Kane’s Premier League record this season stands at just one goal in 648 minutes across eight appearances. It would probably be less worrying if Kane was getting the chances to score and had just temporarily lost his scoring touch, but this isn’t the case. With an average of 0.26 non-penalty xG per 90 in 2021-22, this is his lowest rate ever in a Premier League season. Rarely getting in good positions can be attributed to Kane frequently moving deeper on the pitch to find the ball, but this has possibly occurred due to the lack of any real service to the England captain. That argument might be considered had Kane’s performances not been mirrored on the international stage for England since the European Championships.

Overall, Spurs didn’t attempt a single shot in the second half of this match – something that’s occurred three times over the last 11 months in the Premier League, as they also did so in November 2020 away vs. Chelsea and against Arsenal a month later. The difference between today and those two matches are that Spurs were able to gain four points in those two previous matches, with the attacking sacrifice after half-time seemingly worth it.

Spurs still find themselves in the top seven, but there are worrying signs that this might not be sustainable with the current on-pitch performances.


October 23

The Breakdown

Defending seemed to be something of a lost art in the Premier League on Saturday, with Norwich letting in seven, Everton leaking five and stars of track & underlying numbers Brighton conceding in four. Here’s our quick and useful guide to what went down in the English top-flight today.

◼︎ Norwich famously came third in the 1992-93 Premier League despite having a negative goal difference. They’ll definitely end this season with a negative goal difference but position-wise even third bottom would be an achievement at this rate. Today’s disaster was a 7-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, which equalled Norwich’s worst ever defeat in the Premier League and leaves them nine points behind Derby’s all-time low points total of 11, set in 2007-08. As we saw with Sheffield United last season, a team suffering a rotten season will still eventually overtake Derby but just maybe this time we have an actual challenger? Chelsea, meanwhile, saw Ben Chilwell become the first English player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances for Chelsea since Frank Lampard in 2013 and Mason Mount register his first Premier League hat-trick, taking him level with Cristiano Ronaldo and Ray Parlour.

◼︎ Down at Selhurst Park locals wrestled with the philosophical implications of not losing games. Because Crystal Palace don’t lose many games under Patrick Vieira but they don’t win many either. As confidently predicted by our supercomputer, today saw another draw – this time 1-1 vs. Newcastle – and means Palace are the first team in Premier League history to draw six of their opening nine games since Sunderland and Stoke did so in 2012-13. Keen historians of teams who play in red and white stripes will recall that neither of those sides went down that year, so that’s probably enough solace for Eagles fans who are surely sick of inching their way through the season a point at a time like some sort of badminton player.

◼︎ One week ago Watford shipped five goals at home to Liverpool. This Saturday they went to the city of Liverpool and stuck five goals past Everton, becoming the first team in Premier League history to be losing after 75 minutes of the game and still win by three goals. Emmanuel Dennis came on for Watford on 64 minutes and still ended up with one goal and two assists, which is the entire Premier League output of Jack Grealish at Manchester City this season, by the way. It was that sort of match; Josh King scored as many goals today as he had shots for Everton in the Premier League, while Watford are the first team to let in 5+ goals one week and score 5+ the next since Everton themselves at Christmas 2018. Goodison Park doesn’t have long left as an operational stadium so let’s enjoy and celebrate its weird science while we can.

◼︎ Leeds fans rightly celebrated a late late penalty equaliser against Wolves, but this is still the club’s worst start to a top-flight season since 1981-82. That year both Leeds and Wolves were relegated, which doesn’t seem overly likely this season but neither quite has the effervescence that they displayed when first promoted to the Premier League. As ever, establishing yourself in this league requires clever recruitment, somewhere Leeds perhaps lagged this summer. Wolves, though, have been at it for longer and can point to new striking sensation Hwang Hee-Chan who has scored goals with each of his first four shots on target in the Premier League. Solid.

◼︎ There was talk this week that Chelsea would regret loaning Armando Broja to Southampton, after every functioning centre-forward on the Kings Road went lame, but then the European champions won 7-0, proving… something. Even so, Broja scored again this week, at home to Burnley, to make it two goals in two Premier League starts. The Albanian is the fifth-youngest player in Premier League history to score on both of his first two starts in the competition, after Ritchie Humphreys, Darren Caskey, Gabriel Jesus and Alex Iwobi. A mixed bag, although anyone who can remember the Hot Autumn of ’96 when Humphreys very briefly became the country’s goalscoring sweetheart will enjoy a pleasant few minutes recalling the rapid start he made at Sheffield Wednesday. “The new Marco van Basten”, they said. He wasn’t, but maybe Armando Broja is?

◼︎ Going into this game Brighton had the second best underlying defensive numbers in the Premier League, behind Manchester City, but a brutal first-half lesson from the reigning champions showed the south coast side that there remain levels to this game. Phil Foden’s brace means he already has 18 Premier League goals in his young career, precisely twice as many as Andriy Shevchenko managed in his three seasons in the English top-flight.


Friday Night, Partey Time

We all understand the cadence of the working week. Monday a mission, Friday a joy. So congratulations to Arsenal for converting this office energy into an actual Premier League schedule. On Monday evening Mikel Arteta’s team scored an injury time equaliser at home to Crystal Palace to at least salvage a point. Four days later, performing at the Emirates again, Arsenal dominated Aston Villa for an hour and fully deserved their 3-1 win, just as our match predictor predicted.

There were numerous positives for Arsenal, in a season that started frustratingly but is continuing to improve. Thomas Partey scored his first goal for the club, from his 49th shot in the Premier League. 49 being, of course, a bittersweet number for the Gunners. The second goal came from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who stuck home the rebound after his former team-mate Emi Martinez saved the spot-kick. It’s precisely 16 years ago today that Robert Pires and Thierry Henry bungled their attempt to score the collectors item “passed penalty” so it was slightly disappointing no contemporary Arsenal player decide to try and repeat this, but successfully.

The third Arsenal goal came from man of the match Emile Smith Rowe. Not only did he augment this with four chances created (taking him to 13 for the season), but he also made 18 sprints, more than any other player in the game. With his socks low and his shinpads ephemeral, it was a haunting reminder for Aston Villa of Jack Grealish, a player who they seem to miss more as each matchweek goes past.

Smith Rowe key passes

That’s six Villa defeats in their last nine Premier League away games and the aesthetic beauty of Jacob Ramsey’s consolation goal won’t take the edge off the worry that this could be a long season for the former European champions. Whatever Arsenal do in 2021-22, they won’t match Villa on that front, at least.


Predicting the Premier League: MD9

Matchweek nine in the Premier League contains another delicious looking set of fixtures, including arguably the biggest game in English club football, Manchester United vs. Liverpool. It all kicks off on Friday night at Arsenal but how does our AI-powered match predictor project the games will pan out?

Our match predictor makes Liverpool narrow favourites to repeat the crucial win they picked up at Old Trafford last season, but it still gives United a 30% chance of victory. Both teams lead the league with 16 open play goals this season, so let’s hope there’s plenty of those.

The biggest favourites of the round are, unsurprisingly, Chelsea, who take on lowly Norwich at Stamford Bridge. Norwich have lost their last 10 Premier League games in London and are on an overall top-flight run of 16 away games without a win. I say “this awful run has to end at some point”, our computer says “10% chance it does pal.”

Manchester City are also big favourites with our opinionated machine, with it giving the reigning Premier League champions a 62.7% chance of winning down in Brighton on Saturday evening. It’s a fascinating fixture, with Graham Potter taking on the Catalan Graham Potter. Brighton have the second best xG conceded in the division this season, so if City do go on and win, it probably won’t be easy.

MD9 predictions

Arsenal’s working pattern is very on trend this week, what with two days at home (Monday against Palace and Friday against Villa) and three at the office (er, the training facilities at London Colney). We give them a 49.2% chance of coming out on top against the Villans but midlands tactician Dean Smith has won three of his four encounters with Arsenal in the Premier League.

Finally, the game the machine thinks has the highest chance of ending as a draw is Palace against Newcastle. With just one win between them all season, both sides will be eager for three points on Saturday, but will they just huff and puff and cancel each other out instead?