by Tony Attwood
In football reporting, every incident becomes a crisis, because every day needs a story. And yesterday we got two, with the defeats of Liverpool and Manchester United.
Such things have happened all the way through football history. There are famous tales told of Arsenal losing 7-0 away to Newcastle in 1925 just a couple of months after Herbert Chapman took over. In the legends (although not in fact) Chapman then invented a new playing system. But although that’s not right, in the next three games Arsenal scored 11 and after a 0-4 defeat went on a run of scoring 15 in three. It was Chapman’s first season and a fairly chaotic one, although Arsenal did end up second.
That season the reason behind the chaos was the change in the offside law. In 2011, when Manchester beat Arsenal 8-2 in August, the cause, in the minds of some “fans,” was Wenger. People still remember that result, although I suspect fewer fans remember what happened next. In fact in the next 16 games Arsenal lost two, drew two, and won 12.
At the end of that season we ended up third. Manchester United came second. We did not have the worst defence in the league: indeed we only let in just three more goals than Chelsea, and had the third best goal difference that season. Among other notable events, two months later we beat Chelsea 3-5 away and finally recovered our goal difference with a 7-1 win in the League in February.
Two years later we won the FA Cup, the first of four triumphs in seven years, the best run for any team, ever. And of course I know we didn’t win the League, but those trips to Wembley were fun.
To show just how things can change here is last season’s league table after four matches. Chelsea, you may notice were not even in the top half of the table. The columns on the far right show which place the clubs ended up in (“Final”) and how that changed between the four game table and the end of the season (“Diff”) . Four of the ten clubs changed by over five places, one changing by nine, one by ten.
|7||West Ham United||4||2||1||1||6||7||-1||7||16||-9|
At the moment only three of the “big six” are actually in the top six. Chelsea are 7th, Manchester City are 14th with a game in hand, and Manchester United are 16th.
|10||West Ham United||4||2||0||2||8||4||4||6|
|15||Brighton and Hove Albion||4||1||0||3||8||10||-2||3|
As for why we are getting these swings, obviously the biggest change is the lack of crowds. As we’ve noted through this period without crowds, there is now a mass of evidence from carefully run research programmes undertaken by academics which reveal that crowds influence the referees often by considerable amounts.
I also suspect (but on this second point there is no clear research based evidence) that crowds do affect players more than we think, and I suspect the lack of crowds can remove a motivational impact in both the home and away teams.
A third element is likely to be that VAR without crowds is treated in a different way by the referees – although I’ve not seen research on this yet.
Fourth, we had the discovery last year of Leicester City’s utterly extraordinary statistics relating to tackles, fouls and yellow cards. This year even after three games we have seen another set of stats (this time relating to Tottenham) which again are really, really weird. I suspect (but clearly can’t prove) that these strange statistics simply reflect the fact that some clubs deliberately adopt a set of outlier tactics – which ultimately get found out by referees and other teams. Journalists and their editors seem to feel that their audiences don’t want complicated numbers and analysis, so they are not looking at these odd figures, but they are there, and I really don’t believe they are there by chance. I’ll come back to these in future articles.
One thing we can be very clear about however is that there are agreements within the media as to what to cover and what not. From not reporting those tackles / fouls / yellow card numbers to refusing to report the research on referee bias, from not mentioning that Arsenal are two players above the allowed limit already to not revealing the strange playing patterns of Leicester and Tottenham…
And indeed refusing to cover the extraordinary and bizarre events concerning Fifa that we’ve been reporting these past months, because they are considered “of no interest to football fans”, or (in the case of statistics) are thought to be too complicated for fans to understand.
So today it is shock horror time in regards to the defeats of Liverpool and Manchester United. Tomorrow it will be something else. And so we move on, endlessly shocked and horrified, but never being offered an explanation.
- Comparative stats for Sheff U, Arsenal and industrial scale rotational fouling
- Arsenal have to sell two just to get legal; more if we sign anyone else.
- Infantino looks sunk; but if he takes down Fifa as well, what replaces it?
- Which club is trying to emulate Leicester tackling game from last season?
- Arsenal v Manchester City Women’s Continental League Cup semi-final – match preview
- How Man City’s problems began to arise…. nine years ago
- The media pile into Manchester City, but where have they been all this time?
- Manchester City accused of over 100 breaches of Premier League financial rules
- Every club now knows how to beat Arsenal (according to reports)