Shocking result: the Baggies celebrate their first league win at Old Trafford since 1978
The Premier League has just completed its sixth round of matches so far in the 2013/14 campaign, and already fans and pundits alike have been quick to acclaim it one of, if not the best-ever start to a season.
However, is the English top flight really getting better, and if so, in what areas have we seen improvements since we kicked off the new campaign back on Aug. 17? Or is it just a figment of our own imaginations, with very little having actually changed from last season at all?
Well, here are some of the key stats that will help to provide us with the answers to those questions...
The three newly promoted teams have taken a refreshingly positive approach to life in the Premier League this season. Cardiff City, Hull City and Crystal Palace have all enjoyed themselves by already recording memorable wins in their short time in the top flight.
Malky Mackay’s Bluebirds, of course, registered the most eye-catching result to date by overcoming Premier League favourites Manchester City 3-2 in South Wales in Week 2 of the new campaign (watch above).
The Eagles followed that upset win by beating Sunderland 3-1 at Selhurst Park in Week 3 before Steve Bruce saw his Tigers outfit leave his beloved St. James’ Park with all three points thanks to a stunning 3-2 victory in Week 5.
As a result, Hull are currently riding high with 10 points, two ahead of mid-table Cardiff, while even struggling Palace have managed to collect three points so far from their opening six fixtures.
All of which contrasts starkly with this time last season, when newly promoted outfits Reading, Norwich City and Southampton were all languishing in or around the drop zone with two, three and three points on the board, respectively.
In the 59 top-flight encounters that have been played so far this season going into Monday night’s showdown between Everton and Newcastle United at Goodison Park, 131 goals have been scored in total at a rate of 2.22 goals per game (GPG).
And of those 131 strikes, 71 have come at home, while 60 have been netted on the road, giving us a scoring rate for the former of 1.2 GPG and 1.02 GPG for the latter.
Interestingly, when we come to compare those stats with last season’s scoring rates, we see that across the 380 matches played in the whole of the 2012/13 campaign, there were 1,063 goals at a rate of 2.8 GPG. When broken down between home and away goals, we see that 592 were netted at home (1.56 GPG) and 471 came on the road (1.24 GPG).
If the numbers haven't made it clear, we are seeing fewer goals per game so far this season, whether that be in total or when broken down between home and away strikes. This is a genuine reflection of a far more balanced top flight in this campaign compared to last time out.
For example, in 2012/13, we had scorelines such as Chelsea 8-0 Aston Villa (see above) and Newcastle United 0-6 Liverpool to get our heads around, as well as equally perplexing results like West Bromwich Albion 5-5 Manchester United and Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle.
This time around, there have been no such one-sided contests on display, which makes for a better all-round show.
|Games||Home Wins||Away Wins||Draws||Home||Away||Difference||Total|
|Games||Home Wins||Away Wins||Draws||Home||Away||Difference||Total||x|
Welsh Wizard: Ramsey celebrates yet another goal for Arsenal this season
If you takes a look at last season’s top scorers in the Premier League, you will see that five of the first six names on the list are all front men, while in the top 10 there are only two midfield players to be found: Chelsea’s Frank Lampard and then-Tottenham star Gareth Bale, who can be argued as playing a more forward role than traditional midfielders do.
Already in the opening six rounds of fixtures so far this season, we have midfield players such as Yaya Toure (4), Aaron Ramsey (4), Gylfi Sigurdsson (3) and Robbie Brady (3) appearing in the list of top 10 Premier League goalscorers.
And the greater variety of goalscorers a league has, the more eye-catching and engrossing it becomes, especially when you have a player such as Arsenal’s in-form Wales international Ramsey, who at present seems to be scoring goals for fun.
Meanwhile, heading the goalscoring charts at present are not the usual suspects like Manchester United’s Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney or Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, but less-regarded talents such as Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud. This has provided the feel of a new-look and generally much more interesting Premier League to watch this season.
2013/14 Premier League Top Scorers
|2||Christian Benteke||Aston Villa||4|
|2||Yaya Toure||Manchester City||4|
|6||Sergio Aguero||Manchester City||3|
|6||Robbie Brady||Hull City||3|
|6||Wayne Rooney||Manchester United||3|
|6||Gylfi Sigurdsson||Tottenham Hotspur||3|
|6||Robin van Persie||Manchester United||3|
After six rounds of matches in the previous campaign, leaders Chelsea were still unbeaten, as were champions Manchester City. Of the so-called “big-name” clubs, only Liverpool were not where one would have expected them to be, languishing down in 14th place—albeit after a tricky start to the season under new manager Brendan Rodgers.
However, things have shaped up differently so far in the new campaign, with everyone seemingly capable of beating everyone else. That is usually a sign of a healthy league, with superpowers like Manchester United (see above), Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur all so far tasting at least one defeat.
Plenty to shout about: Artur Boruc and Southampton have the meanest defence in the top flight this season
As we touched on previously, Premier League goals have been far harder to come by so far this season when compared to the previous campaign, and this is the case from top to bottom.
In the 2012/13 season, Manchester City had the best defensive record, letting in 34 goals in their 38 top-flight matches at a rate of 0.89 goals per game. So far in the new campaign, the likes of Southampton (0.33 GPG), Tottenham Hotspur (0.33 GPG), Chelsea (0.5 GPG), Liverpool (0.67 GPG), Everton (0.8 GPG), West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United (both 0.83 GPG) all have tighter back lines.
However, even at the other end of the table, struggling sides such as Crystal Palace (1.67 GPG), Newcastle United (1.6 GPG), Swansea City and Fulham (both 1.5 GPG) are all proving harder to break down than those teams languishing at the bottom of the table last season.
And that is a sure sign that the English top flight is getting better, especially when a side such as Southampton currently has the meanest defence in the Premier League.
Complete 2012/13 Defensive Premier League Stats
|10||West Ham United||38||53||1.39||11||11||8||7||1|
|12||West Bromwich Albion||38||57||1.50||8||13||10||5||1||1|
|14||Queens Park Rangers||38||60||1.58||7||14||8||7||1||1|
Complete 2013/14 Defensive Premier League Stats
|6||West Bromwich Albion||6||5||0.83||2||3||1|
|6||West Ham United||6||5||0.83||3||2||1|
Keeping his eyes on the ball: Ozil and Arsenal have attempted the fewest long balls so far this season
So far this season, the stats recording how many long balls and how many short passes teams play in the Premier League have made for interesting reading.
In essence, all sides now make less use of the old-fashioned punt upfield from the back in order to alleviate pressure, preferring instead to play their way out of trouble using a short-passing, possession-based game.
As a result, the football on show from top to bottom this season has been far easier on the eye, as these stats from the two respective campaigns bear out in full.
2012/13 Passing Stats
R Team Long Balls per game (PG)—Short Passes PG
- Arsenal 54—510
- Manchester City 51—488
- Swansea 62—477
- Liverpool 61—475
- Manchester United 59—471
- Chelsea 60—438
- Wigan 62—424
- Southampton 55—396
- Fulham 66—395
- Tottenham 62—390
- Everton 64—369
- West Bromwich Albion 61—334
- Aston Villa 62—329
- Newcastle United 69—327
- Queens Park Rangers 59—315
- Norwich 64—302
- Sunderland 61—295
- West Ham 62—284
- Stoke 63—274
- Reading 61—265
2013/14 Passing Stats
R Team Long Balls PG—Short Passes PG
- Swansea 65—530
- Manchester City 54—492
- Arsenal 49—477
- Chelsea 57—475
- Manchester United 67—457
- Tottenham 68—450
- Everton 66—444
- Liverpool 61—411
- Southampton 70—402
- Newcastle United 51—398
- Stoke 56—384
- Fulham 65—364
- West Bromwich Albion 62—344
- Crystal Palace 63—341
- Hull 61—338
- Norwich 64—333
- Cardiff 66—315
- Sunderland 57—313
- Aston Villa 65—295
- West Ham 62—286
Already in the opening six weeks of the new Premier League campaign, we have seen a number of so-called “smaller” teams go away from home and mix it with the big boys, and with positive results too.
In particular, Southampton under head coach Mauricio Pochettino caused a surprise by overcoming the then-unbeaten league leaders Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield in what was the Saints’ first victory at the home of the Reds in 30 attempts (see above).
However, the biggest shock of all came on Saturday when West Bromwich Albion saw off the champions Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford to register their first top-flight win at the “Theatre of Dreams” since December 1978.
And in both cases, the underdogs were full value for their upset victories on the road. Such eyebrow-raising results appear, even at this early stage of the campaign, to have marked a slight sea change in the Premier League this season.
Bear in mind that when Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils won the 2010/11 Premier League, they dropped just two points at home in the entire season, whereas in just three home league encounters under new manager David Moyes this campaign, the champions have dropped five points.
All of which makes for a far more captivating league to follow, especially for the neutral fan.
Pass Master: Michael Laudrup's Swansea are the most accurate passers in the top flight this season
Along with the greater percentage of shorter passes now taking place amongst all Premier League sides, those passes have also been of greater accuracy than in the previous campaign. That, in turn, has led to a far more attractive offering on show across the board.
2012/13 Passing Stats
R Team Pass Success %
- Manchester United 85.7
- Arsenal 85.6
- Manchester City 85
- Swansea 85
- Liverpool 84.2
- Chelsea 83.2
- Tottenham 83.1
- Wigan 82.5
- Fulham 82.1
- Newcastle United 79.8
- Everton 79.4
- West Bromwich Albion 78.6
- Aston Villa 77.8
- Southampton 77.7
- Queens Park Rangers 77.2
- Sunderland 76.1
- West Ham 74.2
- Norwich 73.9
- Reading 70.3
- Stoke 70.2
2013/14 Passing Stats
R Team Pass Success %
- Swansea 87.1
- Manchester City 86.3
- Arsenal 84.8
- Manchester United 84.5
- Everton 84.4
- Chelsea 84.4
- Tottenham 84
- Fulham 83
- Newcastle United 81.4
- Liverpool 81.2
- Stoke 79.8
- West Bromwich Albion 79.7
- Southampton 78.7
- Hull 77.9
- Sunderland 77.7
- Norwich 77.2
- Cardiff 75.8
- Aston Villa 75.2
- Crystal Palace 74.8
- West Ham 73.4
Smiles better: no team will win this season's Premier League by 11 points as Rio Ferdinand and United did in the previous campaign
Last season, Manchester United regained their Premier League crown from rivals Manchester City. In his final campaign in charge of the club, retiring manager Sir Alex Ferguson was able to relax and avoid the squeaky-bum time as his side strolled toward their record-breaking 20th top-flight title by a mammoth 11 points from second-placed City.
That scenario, though, is not going to happen this time around. The six teams considered capable of claiming the championship are in what looks like a genuinely competitive title race for the first time in ages.
And to emphasise this new-found competitiveness in the Premier League, currently both mega-rich Manchester giants are languishing outside the top five spots in the table, with the champions down in 12th and City in seventh.
A more evenly balanced league makes for a far more interesting spectacle all round for spectators.