Why Premier League fans can now expect goals in top of the table clashes like Chelsea v Arsenal and Manchester United v Everton

Joe Hall
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Manchester City v Liverpool - Premier League
Was City's destruction of Liverpool an anomaly or are the Premier League's games more attacking than in the past? (Source: Getty)

At one stage in Premier League history, a set of Sunday fixtures pitting Manchester United against Everton and Chelsea against Arsenal would have promised plenty of intrigue but scant scoring.

Yet armchair fans settling in for this weekend’s showcase games can dispense of any pretensions toward patient appreciation of an absorbing tactical battle and instead get ready to gorge on a glut of goals.

Statistics show that heavy thrashings and toe-to-toe thrillers have become increasingly commonplace in head-to-heads between the division’s top sides, having previously been defined as tactical chess matches low on rippling nets and high on firmly parked buses.

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Already this season we have seen Liverpool batter Arsenal 4-0 before receiving a taste of their own medicine in the very next fixture, when then lost 5-0 at Manchester City.

No game between last season’s top seven is yet to feature fewer than two goals, with Everton’s 1-1 draw at City and 2-0 loss at Chelsea the most-barren of such fixtures.

The goal-fest — which, if it continues at its current rate, will mark the most goals-per-game in top teams’ fixtures for at least 15 years — has prompted claims from some pundits that Premier League sides have lost the art of defending in the pursuit of attacking excellence.

“It’s something English football needs to address,” Phil Neville bemoaned last month. “We are totally obsessed with talking about attacking players and skills, but actually defending is an art that is just as important.”

In the mid-2000s, when the top of the table was largely dominated by a big four of Arsenal, United, Liverpool and Chelsea, the best teams did indeed ship fewer goals when up against their title rivals.

Between the 2003-04 season — the first campaign to feature a Roman Abramovich-bankrolled Chelsea — and the turn of the decade, only once did the tally of goals from matches between teams who finished in the top seven exceed 110.

The catenaccio climax came during 2005-06 when just 91 goals were scored in those fixtures, at an average of just 2.2 goals per game.

In contrast, only once so far this decade have top seven sides scored fewer than 110 goals in games against one another.

The seven most recent seasons saw an average of 120 goals scored in those games. In the seven seasons before that, they averaged just 104 goals.

Furthermore, only once in the last seven years have games involving the top seven averaged closer to two goals than three. The reverse is true for the seven years prior to that.

Yet despite the increase in goals-per-game this decade, that has not led to a greater number of wins in top-seven fixtures.

Matches in the noughties between Sir Alex Ferguson’s United, Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool and Jose Mourinho’s first Chelsea side are often remembered as unsatisfying 0-0s or 1-1s.

Yet there has been no obvious reduction in the number of draws between big sides, even as goals have increased.

In fact, it was the most stingy 2005-06 season that resulted in the fewest draws since 2003, with just seven across the campaign.

Similarly, despite the impression left by recent Liverpool results, there has not been an obvious trend towards teams winning by bigger margins.

It doesn’t seem to make a difference whether it’s in victory, defeat or parity — Premier League fans are more likely to see goals fly in at either end when top sides face off.

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