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By the standards of this young but remarkable Premier League season, Liverpool-Arsenal was rather a staid affair.
All it really had was the world’s best defender, Virgil van Dijk, whiffing on a clearance while Andy Robertson, the world’s best left back, sent the ball looping over himself and into the path of Alexandre Lacazette, whose bungled, close-range finish skipped awkwardly over Alisson to give Arsenal a completely-against-the-grain lead. It also had Bernd Leno flapping at Mohamed Salah’s cross, allowing Sadio Mane to dink the equalizer into an empty net. It had two Arsenal defenders missing a routine header, allowing Robertson to score just the fifth goal of his Liverpool career and make amends. It had Diogo Jota scoring the third in his Reds debut on a volley that passed through a defender’s legs and pinged in off the post.
It had Lacazette missing two gilded scoring chances when faced one-on-one with Alisson, which might have resulted in a 2-2 tie, or more, rather than the defending champions’ 3-1 victory.
By the standards of a normal season, this would have been considered a bizarre game, decided largely by uncharacteristic mistakes, both defensively and in Lacazette’s atypically poor finishing. Much would have been made about Arsenal’s defensiveness, yet also about the fact that until late on, it probably had the better of the scoring chances despite going up against the world’s foremost line of forwards. But this season, it will be forgotten quickly.
Because this is no normal season.
This Premier League has been bonkers. Through three rounds of play, this season has produced upsets and bad defending and endless goals. After this match, the average goals per game stands at a towering 3.68. To put that in context, last season it was 2.72, which was in line with the 2.82 posted in 2018-19, 2.68 in 2017-18 and 2.80 in 2016-17. Also: pretty much every season before it.
The opening weekend gave us a topsy-turvy 4-3 between Liverpool and newly promoted Leeds United. Leeds then beat Fulham 4-3, and Everton smashed West Bromwich Albion 5-2, only for West Brom to eke out a 3-3 tie with Chelsea. Tottenham Hotspur beat Southampton 5-2, only to then spill two points to Newcastle by the vagaries of the new handball rule. Leicester City beat Burnley 4-2 and that turned out to only be a warm-up to smashing mighty Manchester City 5-2. Manchester United was pummeled 3-1 by Crystal Palace and barely beat Brighton & Hove Albion 3-2.
Upsets. Bad defending. Goals.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
There are a few different explanations. Or attempts at explanations, anyway. The preseason was short. Some teams barely got a break at all after returning from the Champions League tournament in Portugal. It takes time to organize a defense. More time than what is required to get your forwards sharp.
But it might be something bigger. It feels like a kind of super-parity has settled over the Premier League, one where everybody is rich. While all the other leagues were constrained by the losses incurred during the pandemic, the Premier League was somewhat insulated from the hurt — or better off at any rate, thanks to its enormous TV contracts, which were mostly unaffected. Even Spain’s La Liga, widely regarded as the world’s second-biggest league, was reduced to an unfamiliar role as a selling league this summer. That’s how Valencia’s starting striker wound up signing with Leeds. Why the Portugal right back who made 42 appearances for Barcelona last season now plays for Wolverhampton Wanderers. How Real Madrid’s excess attacking midfielder wound up at Everton.
Everyone is good now. There are fully nine teams — Liverpool, City, Chelsea, United, Spurs, Arsenal, Everton, Leicester and Wolves — that presently look like they could conceivably survive the group stage of the Champions League, had they all been allowed to enter.
The deluge of goals probably isn’t sustainable. Defenses will eventually get their act together and stench the copious bleeding. Then again, this season has been compressed into a tighter schedule than in other years. Legs will get ever heavier. Teams will run ragged. They won’t all have the depth to compete on several fronts, but unpredictability may last. Mistakes will be made. The chaos might prolong its reign.
Or we can hope, anyway.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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