Premier League stats review: Pep's killing machine develops a brain, Ole's 'Big Six' woes continue and is Gareth Bale back?

FootballCritic crunches the key numbers from another thrilling weekend of top-flight action.

Published: 3 March 2021 - 10.43am
Gareth Bale celebrates scoring against Burnley

Manchester City 2-1 West Ham

Manchester City’s relentless charge to the Premier League title faced a little more of a test than they have had recently against West Ham, but it’s now 20 wins in a row in all competitions, 14 of which have come in the Premier League.

In those 14 wins, they have scored 34 goals and have conceded just four. Pep Guardiola has resurrected his monster, but instead of a relentless killing machine, it has grown a brain; previous Pep teams would drown teams in goals but always look susceptible at the back. Now, there is a glorious balance and it is one that is looking unstoppable on every conceivable front. 

The fact that their goals came from both centre halves - Ruben Dias and John Stones - says much of the collective capabilities of this team. They all have to contribute in a number of different ways, adaptable to the challenge in front of them. And it always helps when Kevin De Bruyne can provide the type of sensational cross into the box like he provided for Dias’ opener. Worth noting that when Dias puts the ball in the net, there are two City players inside the 18-yard box - Dias, and Stones. This is a total football team. 

 

Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United

The spirit of Jose Mourinho is alive and well in the way that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to set up for ‘Big Six’ clashes, and we the viewer are so much more worse off for it. 

Only one team tried to win this - Chelsea - but even they didn’t try particularly hard, and it’s a match that dispels once and for all the myth that a high shot volume constitutes an exciting spectacle. 

Of the 28 shots, 10 were on target, but only one of which - Hakim Ziyech’s effort saved by David de Gea in the second half - had an xG of 0.10 or above. If the best effort in a match only has a 10% chance of going in, you’re witnessing catching practice for the goalkeepers and the ballboys, which is what this was. 

And as for Ole, apart from Bruno Fernandes’ penalty in a 6-1 thrashing at home to Tottenham in October, his team’s record against the other Big Six this season reads more like binary code: 0-0, 0-1, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0. And yet, they are second in the table, testament to how dysfunctional most sides outside of Manchester City have been. 

 

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Tottenham 4-0 Burnley

Is Gareth Bale back? Let’s not get too carried away. 

Having spent most of last season doing anything except playing football (he managed just 1260 minutes in all competitions for Real Madrid) Bale was basically starting again in terms of finding not only match fitness, but match sharpness. And against an admittedly hapless Burnley side, there were signs the Welshman is finding his range again. 

Bale provided two goals - the second of which was a sublime curling effort rattling in off the post - and an assist for Harry Kane, his raking pass covering nearly 70 yards to allow the England striker to finish. Bale hasn’t provided three direct goal contributions in a single match since his hat-trick in the Club World Cup against Kashima in December 2018. And his 0.75 xG generated here was by far his highest in a single match since returning to England, and his most since facing Getafe in April of last year. 

The standard of the opposition have to be taken into account - Spurs haven’t scored this many at home in the league since they smashed this same Burnley in 2019 - but sometimes it’s good to know that the desire in a great player is still there. Here’s hoping there’s more to come. 

 

WBA 1-0 Brighton

Graham Potter could be forgiven for having his neck in a permanent position pointed at the sky, wondering what he’s done to deserve the finishing being provided by his Brighton forwards. 

And that would have been the case before this bonkers outing against a West Brom side who somehow emerged with the three points. Brighton have generated 8.1 xG in their last three matches alone, and have scored only once. Meanwhile, the opposition - Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and WBA - have amassed just over one, yet have three goals. 

It’s very easy to say ‘that’s football’ but it’s of little comfort to Potter and Brighton, who have been in virtually every game this season, yet now are very clearly in a relegation battle. 

The circumstance of this loss - a total of 3.1 xG squandered by missing two penalties as Pascal Gross hit the crossbar and Danny Welbeck the post, then throw in Aaron Connolly’s open-goal aberration and Lee Mason’s double-whistle disallowing a goal, and this was a game they should never, ever have lost. 

The expected goals gods suggest that Brighton’s luck has to turn soon. But the chances are only as good as the strikers that have to convert them.