Are Premier League finishers more relaxed without crowds in stadiums?

Daniel Zeqiri
·2 min read
Tottenham's Harry Kane (L) celebrates with teammate Son Heung-min  - Shutterstock
Tottenham's Harry Kane (L) celebrates with teammate Son Heung-min - Shutterstock

A range of theories have been offered to explain the deluge of goals in this Premier League season: a truncated pre-season, the depth of brilliant forwards in the division, defenders losing concentration without crowds, playing out from the back and high lines have all been cited. 

What if though, the absence of fans from stadiums has actually improved the quality of finishing? Tension is often blamed for missed chances ('he snatched at it') but now elite-level shooters are even more relaxed. 

Just re-watch Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's gloriously impudent winner for Arsenal in last season's FA Cup final, or how casually Tottenham's Heung-min Son and Harry Kane found the back of West Ham's net within their first eight minutes of their game last Sunday. All three goals looked...a little too easy. Almost as if they were being scored on the training ground, which of course Premier League atmospheres now resemble. 

How to measure this? We are dealing with a dangerously small sample size at this stage of the season, but 17 of 20 Premier League teams are currently out-stripping their expected goals tally. The only three teams not scoring more goals than you would expect from the quality of chances they have created are Burnley, Fulham and Sheffield United which is a small facet of their early struggles. Chris Wilder's team are the only in the league to be underperforming their xG by more than one goal. 

You would expect the long list of teams running ahead of their xG totals to be whittled down as the season progresses and the sample size increases, but it is something to keep an eye on. Last season, just seven teams finished the season with a higher goals scored number than their xG tally. In 2018-19 it was 12, so there is variance and fluctuation. 

Aston Villa, Chelsea and Everton are currently the biggest over-performers in the league, although Villa's numbers are somewhat distorted by their 7-2 victory over Liverpool. In each of the last two seasons, the same four teams were the biggest overperformers: Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City. Those four teams' contrasting fortunes in that period show it can be a portent for good and ill. Liverpool for instance, have their own internal metrics which they believe allows them to consistently 'cheat' xG. 

Crowds or no crowds, Son and Kane are also unbelievably accurate and unerring finishers, the former scoring seven goals from nine shots on target this season. Whether the Premier League can sustain its current rate of finishing is something to keep tabs on. 

Do you think Premier League forwards are more relaxed in an empty stadium? Let us know in the comments section below.