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The Wacky Race in England

November 6, 2020

Wotcha, lads and ladettes! Today I’m talking about the strange start to the 2020-21 English Premier League (Prem) season—the wacky race in England (click here to watch old, Prem-themed Wacky Races parodies made by YouTube channel 442oons). More specifically, I’ll discuss how the historically high level of competition—perhaps due to fans’ absence from stadiums—has set the stage for a thrilling campaign.

Thus far, the Premier League season has been extremely entertaining, primarily due to the fact that it’s currently anyone’s race. For the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, through seven matchdays (a matchday is a round of league games), the sixth-place club hypothetically could climb to the top of the table in just one matchday. Only six points—two wins—separate league leaders Liverpool from 13th-place Crystal Palace. European giants Manchester United are in 15th place, and Aston Villa, a club which was nearly relegated last season, could jump to second place after it plays its game in hand. While the Prem has been regarded as the most competitive major European soccer league for the past decade, the playing field seems to be unprecedentedly level this campaign.

“But why?” you ask. Well, when explaining the historically high level of competition in the Prem, many beauticians, including myself, believe the Premier League’s decision to play matches behind closed doors somewhat did away with home-field advantage. Home-field advantage is more important in soccer than perhaps any other sport. In fact, it is so significant that the Union of European Federal Associations instituted the away goals rule in 1965: if two teams are tied on aggregate (aggregate score is the sum of the first- and second-leg scores) after 180 minutes of soccer, the team which scored more goals away from home advances in the tournament. For this reason, I was surprised to learn that, as of October 7, 2020, the home team’s win percentage following last season’s restart in June was 45.4 percent—only down 0.8 percent from the win percentage of home clubs prior to the ‘rona shutdown in March. Although the difference between home team win percentage in the Premier League with fans and without fans is marginal, away wins, as of October 7, have increased by a third since play resumed without spectators—away club win percentage went from 27.6 percent to 36.9 percent. The 9.3 percent increase in away team victories proves that home-field advantage has become much less important in recent months—in fan-less Prem fixtures following the restart last June, the home club won merely 8.5 percent more often than the away team. Additionally, draws (ties) were down from 26.1 percent with fans to 17.7 percent without fans—an 8.4 percent decrease which further emphasizes that Premier League teams are significantly less likely to leave their home stadiums with points now than they were before the shutdown eliminated spectators. To be exact, clubs were 9.2 percent less likely to win or tie at home after the last campaign restarted than they were prior to the season’s pause in March. All of these percentages, which were accurate as of October 7, go to show that the effects of home-field advantage were greatly diminished following the restart, thereby proving that home-field advantage played a big part in this unprecedentedly close early-season Premier League title race.

Whew! I just gave you a lot of numbers to process. Do you want a break? You do? Well, that’s too bad because it’s my column and I make the rules. As of October 7, goals per game increased from 2.7 pre-COVID-19 shutdown to 3.0 after the Prem’s resumption. While a difference of 0.3 goals per game is not particularly noteworthy in and of itself, when you couple it with the fact that home teams are now scoring 1.6 goals per game—up 0.1 from 1.5 pre-‘rona—and away teams are now scoring 1.4 goals per game—a significant 0.3 increase from 1.1 before the shutdown—following June’s restart, these stats perpetuate the idea that home-field advantage’s impact on Premier League results is waning.

Staying on the topic of goals, this campaign has also been historically high-scoring so far. In fact, 144 goals were scored in the Prem through 38 games this season. At this rate of 3.79 goals per game, which is 0.97 greater than the record of 2.82 from the 2018-19 campaign, the league is on track to score 1440 goals altogether by the end of the season, which would smash the record of 1,222 goals that was set when the Premier League had 22 teams during its inaugural 1992-93 season (it now has only 20 teams).

Every match means something, and goals are flying in at a historic rate: this is the current state of the Prem. Grab your popcorn, folks!


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