How has ‘Project Restart’ affected Premier League teams?

The Premier League returned on 17 June but the goals were a couple of weeks late.

There were 100 days between the Premier League’s final game before world sport came to a standstill and the ‘restart’ which began with Sheffield United’s trip to Aston Villa. The Premier League’s long-awaited return was met with the expected joy of fans but that quickly turned to disappointment and a longing for quality football.

Premier League returned on 17 June 2020 a month after ‘Project Restart’ allowed teams begin training. Image courtesy of skysports.com.

Premier League games saw a decrease in goals per game (2.7 before lockdown to 2.2 in the first 16 games after the restart), especially in the first half of matches, but this is not the only stat that has seen a decline. Shots in general and chances created are also lower than the first 28 games of the season.

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish during their 0-0 draw with Sheffield United on 17 June 2020. Image courtesy of 90min.com.
Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish during their 0-0 draw with Sheffield United on 17 June 2020. Image courtesy of 90min.com.

Teams have been slow to get started in each game too, not just in the league as a whole. The first 24 games of the restart saw just 29% of goals scored in the first half, compared to the season average of 46%. The Premier League is not the only league that is seeing odd trends emerge – 36% of the first 10 games after the Bundesliga restart were away wins (up from 30%) while home wins reduced dramatically from 45% to 27%.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what has caused this effect. It could very well be the three-month hiatus taken by the players, but some pundits would suggest the lack of fans at games could also be to blame. The recent uplift in the standard of football would suggest the former may be true, or perhaps the players have just become accustomed to the latter.

Tottenham Hotspur celebrate the winning goal in their 1-0 victory against Everton behind closed doors at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 6 July 2020. Image courtesy of Sporting Life.

One team that will certainly be looking for an explanation is Sheffield United. The newly-promoted Blades were dark horses throughout the opening 28 games of the season as the surprise package in a very entertaining race for both the Champions League and Europa League. Losing just twice on the road before lockdown, and boasting the second-best defence in the league, Chris Wilder’s men were on course for Europe.

However, a drastic decline in form after the restart had seen them drop to 9th in the table. They failed to score in their first three games back before a 3-1 victory over another struggling side, Spurs. Sheffield also suffered their two biggest defeats of the season after the return – 3-0 defeats to Manchester United and Newcastle. These two damaging away defeats doubled their tally of losses on the road this season. Manager Chris Wilder has admitted he fears their season will fade away to nothing.

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Sheffield United suffer their joint-biggest defeat of the season away to Newcastle United. Video courtesy of Sky Sports Football.

At the other end of the table, the three sides occupying the relegation places have yet to get going again. Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Norwich combined have picked up just three points out of a possible 48 (W0 D3 L13) since June. Norwich have looked destined for relegation for quite some time now, but Villa and Bournemouth are three and four points adrift respectively and certainly in with a chance of survival. This downturn in form comes after promising results at the beginning of the year against relegation rivals and bigger sides.

For Bournemouth especially, the season’s extension brings another piece of bad news – key man Ryan Fraser has refused to extend his contract until the new end of the season and has subsequently left the club on a free.

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Bournemouth thrashed 4-1 at home by Newcastle United. Video courtesy of Sky Sports Football.

It’s not all bad news for Premier League sides though, as Wolves have come back roaring. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men started their season late last July in the early stages of the Europa League qualifiers. The prolonged season will fall just shy of 12 months for them. Wolves won three of their first four games back, strengthening their push for Champions League football. It seems as though the rest was well needed for Wolves – they had begun to drop points before the break.

Another team who have been in full flow since the restart is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United. Bruno Fernandes has become the club’s most effective signing with six goals and five assists in his first nine appearances. Mason Greenwood has continued his rich run of form with four goals and an assist. Even Paul Pogba is back in the frame with some promising performances. United’s 13 points from a possible 15 sees them just one point outside the top four. However, their current place in 5th could be enough to secure Champions League football next season pending the result of Manchester City’s appeal against their two-year ban from European football.

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Scintillating Manchester United put 5 past Bournemouth at Old Trafford. Video courtesy of Sky Sports Football.

While individual teams have reacted to the situation differently, there is no doubt football was negatively affected by a three-month break followed by games behind closed doors. The good news, however, is the beautiful game is slowly returning to its beautiful best.

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