Stat, Viz, Quiz is the weekly Opta Analyst football newsletter. Our latest edition includes numbers on the UEFA Champions League, Rasmus Højlund, and headed goals.
It feels like showing patience is becoming a dying art.
If our coffee order is taking too long it’s the end of the world; if the traffic lights take ages to change it ruins our day; if our Valentine’s Day card doesn’t arrive on time it means we’re unlovable and must dive headfirst into the nearest tub of ice cream and please take me back Sharon, I promise I’ll stop writing rude words in your Sudoku puzzles… ahem.
Manchester United have been rewarded for showing patience. Not long ago you didn’t have to go far to find people questioning Rasmus Højlund’s credentials, but he achieved something this weekend that only one player in Premier League history has been able to match at a younger age. We’ll investigate his improvement further.
We also have an Ask Opta query about headers, so we’ll use our own noggins to try and answer that.
Let’s start with the UEFA Champions League with the round of 16 getting under way this week, though we’re looking a bit beyond that.
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STAT – Will it be a Fantastic Five in England?
The music can be heard in the distance. That can only mean one thing. “The Chaaaaampions!”
Yes, the Champions League is back as the 2023-24 knockout stage is upon us. As things stand, this will be the last iteration of the competition in its current form, with more teams and more games in the revised format from next season.
That means more qualifying spots, and unless you haven’t been paying attention, you’ll know that European leagues are now vying for extra entries into the 2024-25 Champions League.
The number of participants will go up from 32 to 36 teams from 2024-25, with one additional spot being given to the association in fifth place in the country coefficient rankings, another to the ‘champions path’ qualifiers, which winners of domestic leagues without a direct group stage entry contest each year, and two additional spots will be handed to the associations with the best collective European performance in the previous season.
Yes, coefficients are the name of the game. It means teams from each country can boost their nation’s chances of an extra Champions League spot. Imagine the scenes if Manchester City winning the tournament again directly leads to Manchester United qualifying for it next season.
As things stand, it’s looking good for the Premier League. The performances of English teams in the qualification rounds and the group stages of the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League means there is currently a 77.0% chance of fifth place in England’s top flight this season being enough for a Champions League place, according to the Opta supercomputer.
That is ahead of Italy (50.4%), Germany (48.3%), Spain (12.5%) and France (9.9%).
If fans of Tottenham, Aston Villa, Man Utd and Newcastle weren’t already cheering on their Premier League rivals in Europe before, they should be now. Villa can help their own cause by winning the Europa Conference League, though hopefully for Unai Emery’s side it won’t be at the expense of their league form.
Just when you thought the Champions League couldn’t get more interesting. You might even see Barcelona fans cheering on Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund supporters urging Bayern Munich to glory… so keep an eye out for flying pigs or cold weather in Hell.
VIZ – Højlund Hitting His Stride
Rasmus Højlund arrived at Manchester United to much fanfare in the summer. The young Dane was supposed to finally be the number nine to fire the Red Devils back into Premier League title contention.
Predictably, given he only turned 21 earlier this month, it has taken Højlund time to find his feet. He scored an impressive five goals in the Champions League group stage but was finding the task of beating goalkeepers far trickier in the Premier League.
Up to Christmas, Højlund had played 945 Premier League minutes for United without scoring or assisting (14 games, 11 starts).
His goalless streak extended beyond 1,000 minutes during the home clash with Aston Villa on 26 December, but in the 82nd minute of that game, he not only finally found the net in league action, but he also won the game in a dramatic 3-2 comeback at Old Trafford.
That moment appears to have rejuvenated his confidence. The former Atalanta striker has scored in subsequent league appearances against Tottenham, Wolves, West Ham and Villa. Since Christmas, Højlund has managed five goals and two assists in just 442 minutes.
In doing so, aged 21 years and seven days, Højlund became the second youngest player ever to score in five successive Premier League appearances, only behind Nicolas Anelka for Arsenal in November 1998 (19y 239d).
His efficiency in front of goal has skyrocketed in that time, unsurprisingly. He had taken 18 shots in the Premier League before Man Utd’s first win over Villa without scoring, but has had just eight shots since, finding the net five times.
The sky appears to be the limit for Højlund, until he goes a few games without a goal again and ‘#FraudmasFraudlund’ starts trending.
QUIZ – De Bruyne the Provider, Jota’s Bonce, and Gabriel’s Goals
Each of the traditional big six in the Premier League won on Matchday 24, while there were some notable results elsewhere. Let’s test your knowledge of it all with our weekly quiz. Answers at the bottom of the page.
1. Kevin De Bruyne provided yet another assist for Erling Haaland in Manchester City’s 2-0 win over Everton. The Belgian has provided the most assists of any Premier League player for a specific teammate (Haaland) in all competitions since the start of last season. How many? A) 8, B) 10, or C) 12?
2. Sheffield United beat Luton Town 3-1 to win their first Premier League away game since March 2021 against Everton (1-0), while they scored three goals in an away match in the competition for the first time since October 1993, ending a run of 84 such games without doing so. Who did they play in that game? A) Oldham Athletic, B) Southampton, or C) Swindon Town?
3. Nine of Diogo Jota’s 40 league goals for Liverpool have been headers. Since his first season at the Reds in 2020-21, only two Premier League players have more headed goals in the competition. Who?
4. Brennan Johnson’s late goal against Brighton was Tottenham’s third 90+ minute winner in the Premier League this season (also vs Sheffield United and Liverpool). Who are the only other team to have scored as many?
5. Gabriel Magalhães was among the goals in Arsenal’s 6-0 thrashing of West Ham. The Brazilian defender has scored 14 goals for the Gunners in the Premier League, the most of any defender in the competition since the start of 2020-21. Overall, who is the only defender to have recorded more goals for Arsenal in the Premier League?
This week’s question came to us on X from Mike Mander (@ynwa2808), who asks: “All four goals in the Liverpool vs Burnley game were headers. It got me wondering, what is the highest score where the goals have just all been headers?”
Indeed, everyone was using their heads on Saturday as Liverpool beat Burnley 3-1 at Anfield, with all four goals coming from headers.
Diogo Jota and Dara O’Shea both nodded in from corners to make it 1-1 at the break, before Luis Díaz reacted well to head in Harvey Elliott’s deflected cross and Darwin Núñez superbly glanced an effort in from another Elliott ball.
It moved the game level with four others from Premier League history that have had the highest number of exclusively headed goals.
Liverpool already jointly held the record, rather unwantedly, from their 3-1 home defeat to Manchester United in the 1996-97 season, while Burnley also now appear twice in the list having previously featured in a game with four headed goals, a 2-2 draw with West Brom in the 2014-15 campaign.
Derby County were participants in the two remaining games with four goals that all came via heads, a 4-0 home defeat to Leicester in April 1998 – with all the goals arriving in the first 15 minutes of the game – and a 2-2 draw away at Wimbledon in September 1999.
Another notable thing from Saturday’s game is that Liverpool more than doubled their headed goals total in the Premier League this season from it. Prior to that contest, the Reds had scored just two headers in the league, with only one coming in their first 21 league games of the 2023-24 campaign (Mohamed Salah vs Brentford). Dominik Szoboszlai also scored with his head in the recent 4-1 win over Chelsea.
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1. C) 12
2. B) Southampton (a 3-3 draw)
3. Harry Kane (18) and Erling Haaland (10)
4. Manchester United
5. Laurent Koscielny (22)
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