Monday, November 2, 2020

Goals Galore in the Second Wave

THE NEW SEASON HAS BEEN A BREATH OF FRESH AIR AMID THE GLOOM

It is deja vu in Europe as Covid-19 cases mushroom and nations re-enter lockdown. Mental health is waning as winter approaches and with no vaccine in circulation, no end to the pandemic looks imminent.

Goals galore in the second wave
Goals galore in the second wave

But hey at least here in England we have football, though not as we knew it.

Prospects of the turnstiles reopening before the spring are receding by the day, so we will have to live with televised soccer's unusual brew of artificial crowd noise and swathes of empty seats, for the foreseeable future.

But if we are used to watching most of our football on the screen instead of in the flesh anyway, what are we complaining about? This season's Premier League is mightily interesting already, and not just because the legendary Marcelo Bielsa is involved at last.

The palpable surge in goals scored in the EPL so far has been universally attributed to the empty stadia. The lack of a raucous home crowd has allowed attacking players to be more creative and fearless in front of goal it appears, as well as conversely making defences relax, creating a cocktail for more chances.

This season's tweaking of the penalty rule has also been suspected, as has the improvement in coaching across the division, with high-pressure attacking now the norm and Jurgen Klopp's gegenpressing de rigeur. The Reds have looked ropey in their first title defence since 1990 but are still top after seven games, an ominous sign their champions' quality is not about to dissipate.

Everton the early leaders, Chelsea in tenth, and Manchester City 13th are three league positions nobody would have expected. Man Utd in 15th is not that surprising given Ole Gunnar Solskaer's travails last season at Old Trafford, but the Red Devils' heroics in the Champions League - beating 2020 finalists PSG away and hammering semi-finalists RB Leipzig 5-0 are supernovae successes.

Leicester are flying in second now a point off the top, which only adds to Brendan Rodgers' impressive comeback from his failure at Anfield earlier in his career. But has nobody noticed that Aston Villa, managed by modest Dean Smith, who scraped last-day survival in the Spring, could have gone top had they got a win and a draw in their last two matches?

The goal fest has been a delight so far, notably Villa's six-goal mauling of the champions, as well as the free-scoring Dominic Calvert-Lewin (8 goals) and Son-Heung Min (8) at the top of the scoring charts. 

Leeds's Patrick Bamford (6) is looking sharp, as well as the usual suspects Jamie Vardy (7), Mo Salah (7) and Harry Kane (6). 

A shout-out too to Wilfred Zaha's five strikes for Crystal Palace and Callum Wilson's five at Newcastle. It does feel like a campaign of scoring flourishes. There is something new in the air of England's top flight.

That said, after half a dozen games the bottom five of the table has a familiar feel with Brighton, West Brom, Burnley, Sheffield United, and Fulham sure to be scrapping for survival with six games to go before the end of the season.

Nodding heads are expecting the novelty to wear off and the goals per game ratio to fall, but nobody really knows.

For now, let us just forget the turgid statisticians and enjoy the glorious folly of the 2020 season. 

And let us pray that the twin terrors of Covid-19 and puritan-level VAR peter out as quickly as possible.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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