The Premier League kicked off once again after a 100-day absence, with desperate football fans treated to an ultimately drab goalless draw between relegation threatened Aston Villa, and the absurdly overachieving Sheffield United. A win for either team here would have been a good way to set some early pressure on the teams around them, but alas, no official goals went in.
Despite the absurdity of artificial crowd noise, a social distanced bench of players, and for the first time ever, four substitutions in a game, the match was a welcomed return to semi-normality. The game was also the first glimpse into evaluating how the rest of the season will play out, and there was much information gained from this opening exchange.
Form means nothing
Before this game, Sheffield United were on a good run of form, which you can dive deeper at Analytics FC, with a valiant 1-0 loss against Manchester City being their only defeat in five games. However, you wouldn’t have known that watching this match. They didn’t manage to manufacture many chances for themselves, as they only had a single shot on target, while Villa managed a huge 14, forcing brilliant saves from Dean Henderson to halt a breakthrough — who was many people’s man of the match.
This ultimately poor performance from Chris Wilder’s team suggests that the momentum that some clubs were using to drive results has now paused, putting teams on far more equal playing field, and putting emphasis on the natural quality of each squad.
This can be a problem for Sheffield United, as on paper they’re a weaker team than the others around them, and without form and momentum to boost their mentality and performance, they could struggle. On the contrary, this can help other teams who were struggling in recent games as the break has allowed them to reset and change their fortunes.
The technology seems rusty
During the game, there was a massive incident where Aston Villa goalkeeper, Orjan Nyland, appeared to have quite clearly carried the ball over his own goal line after struggling to deal with a freekick from Oliver Norwood. However, the usually ever reliable Hawkeye goal line technology didn’t notify the referee that the ball went over the line, as it usually does. This meant that no goal was given, and ultimately, Sheffield United were denied vital points.
After the game, Hawkeye, the manufacturers of the technology themselves, issued a statement apologizing for the blunder, confirming that the ball did go over the line.
With a season that’s been marred with various VAR controversies, this incident is a return to normal, but it may suggest that modern referees are too reliant on technology when making judgement calls, which is seriously impacting the outcome of important games.
The players aren’t up to speed.
For the first time ever in the Premier League — which in fact is one of the richest sports league in the world according to Cashlady research — more than three substitutes were used by one team in a match. Aston Villa’s El Mohamady had the honorable distinction of being the fourth substitute in the game, but even his fresh legs couldn’t boost the tempo of what was a slightly more lethargic encounter.
Not to mention that players were given two drinks breaks halfway through either half, implying that they’re not at their usual sharpness and fitness. It’s a fair estimation to think that whatever team has the fittest players might have the edge in these remaining fixtures, but in this match, it played out like a training game.
Not to mention, that without real fans to egg players on, there was a distinct lack of urgency which could plague other Premier League games in the future. But hopefully it won’t affect the Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool, where the leaders can continue their push for their first league title since 1990.