Here we are in the middle of December, and 15 weeks of Premier League drama have unfolded before our eyes. Some highlights thus far include Leicester putting Manchester United through the julienne machine during a 5-3 win early on in the season, Chelsea’s 11-man android that looked unbeatable for four months, and some incredible fist-pumping from Big Sam at the weekend fueled by all the muscle and precision his West Ham side currently display as they sit third (!) in the Premier League table.
So how does this year compare to last year so far? I did some digging on premierleague.com and found the exact opposite of what I was expecting.
There were three goalless draws last week, Liverpool against Sunderland, Hull against West Brom, and Spurs hosting Crystal Palace. This is a trend for all teams this year right? Less goals? No mercurial talent in Luis Suárez to bang them in for Liverpool, Spurs are still adjusting to their new system. West Brom hasn’t scored from open play in nine games. All evidence points to a league scoring less, correct?
As it stands the 2014/2015 season has exactly the same amount of goals as the 2013/2014 season at 390 total goals scored after 15 gameweeks. And as I write this Southampton and Manchester United have yet to play, so there is a good chance this year will have seen a goal or two more than last year at this time.
All right, that’s a bit surprising. How about the bottom three? Surely they are scoring less than the bottom three last year? Burnley couldn’t score until November, Leicester has really dropped off, and Hull haven’t scored in three of their last four. Are these teams worse for wear than those in the same position last year? Quite the opposite actually. This time last year the bottom three teams- Fulham, Sunderland, and Crystal Palace- shared a total of 36 goals after 15 weeks. Leicester, Burnley, and Hull currently share 40. I did the same maths for the lowest goal scoring teams in each year regardless of position on the table. Here’s where I found my problem.
Last year at this time the lowest scoring teams were Crystal Palace with ten goals (19th in the table), Cardiff with eleven (16th), and Sunderland with twelve (20th) for a total of 33 goals. This year, you guessed it, the exact same amount of goals have been scored amongst the lowest goal scoring teams. Those teams are Burnley with ten (19th), Sunderland with thirteen (14th), and Aston Villa with ten (11th).
There is the problem.
Aston Villa has been warping my perspective on the league since just about the very beginning. How can a team that has only scored ten total goals sit in 11th place? Before their game on Sunday they had eight. By the end of Saturday’s games Charlie Austin had eight by himself, and only after that most recent one did QPR get out of the relegation zone. And it’s not like the Villains defense is the definition of watertight either. They’ve shipped nineteen goals so far and have a goal differential of -9. It’s not the worst in the league by any means but to put things in perspective, Everton has a +1 differential and is a point behind AV in the table. That is almost absurd. How are they doing this?
To their credit, Aston Villa is a very hard working team. Over the last few months this has been enough to see Aston Villa squeak by with three 1-0 wins against Liverpool, Stoke, and Crystal Palace. Their other two wins were 2-1 triumphs over Hull and Leicester. With relentless runners up top in Gabby Agbonlahor and Andy Weimann, you never have to worry about the forwards putting in a shift. Problem is they don’t score very often. In fact nobody does.
Alan Hutton scored at the weekend, taking his yearly tally to one, and that’s enough to catapult him into a tie for 2nd on Aston Villa’s scoring chart. Alan Hutton catapulting into any position on any scoring chart is enough cause for firepower concerns, but Agbonlahor and Weimann aren’t lighting it up at the top with three goals apiece either.
Yet Aston Villa sit eleventh in the league, three points away from leapfrogging the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. It just seems at every ominous path, the Villains seem headed into disaster and come out the other side cleaner than they entered. It’s both frustrating and amazing to watch. Not just for fans of other teams, but judging by the attendance at Villa Park this year, the Villa faithful as well.
Things look to become smoother for Aston Villa in the coming months. Their talisman Christian Benteke is back, and it’s been no secret that when he’s on the field, the team is relying on him to score. He’s already off the mark and looks sharper and more influential every week, so the Villa that we’ve come to know over the years may very well be on their way back. But for now, all we can do is watch this Rubik’s cube of a team spin around the pitches of the Premier League.