Sunday August 30th, 2015

There were two home victories in the Premier League on Sunday. That was a surprise.

Only one game on Saturday ended in a home victory (Manchester City, naturally). Even with Swansea’s victory over Manchester United and Southampton’s over Norwich on Sunday, only nine of the 40 Premier League games this season have ended in home victories. That’s just 22.5%.

Last year, the home team won 45% of the time. Over the past 10 seasons between 44% and 51% of Premier League matches have ended in home victories. Over the same period, away teams have won between 24% and 32% of the time. That’s a big difference.

So far this season, the away team is winning more than 42.5% of the time. It’s early in the season, but the stats have flopped.

Swansea’s victory was hardly a surprise, as it's now beaten United three consecutive times. The eye-popping results were West Ham’s 3–0 victory at Liverpool and Crystal Palace’s 2–1 victory at Chelsea.

Home advantage is something of a statistical mystery. Home fans usually make more noise. Home players do not have to travel and can follow a familiar routine. Yet pitches these days are all pretty much the same size. The playing surface is nearly identical at all grounds, and in all seasons.

One difference is that teams, for no logical reason, often adopt different tactics at home and away. Clearly the home tactics are usually better than the away tactics.

The different approaches, and results, home and away, are in part because of those noisy fans impatiently urging their team forward. They are also a product of expectations. West Ham had not won a league game at Anfield in 42 matches over 52 years, since Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst, two future World Cup final scorers, struck in a 2–1 victory in 1963. Crystal Palace had never won a top-flight game at Stamford Bridge, though it had won a second division match there in the 1982 and a cup game in the '70s.

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The tactical paradox is doubly bewildering because the quickest route to success for a coach with limited resources is to set up his team to counter attack. That’s what Alan Pardew has done at Palace. His team has won eight of its last 10 away games. Last season, which started under Tony Pulis, Palace picked up six more points away than at home.

Palace has a big, burly, well-disciplined back five. In front of them, Pardew has added Yohan Cabaye to give some variety to a fistful of players with blinding pace: Bakary Sako, who scored again on Saturday, Jason Puncheon, Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie. Any Newcastle fans ruefully contemplating the 17 places between their team and Pardew’s new club might reflect that the coach plays a style of soccer they did not like.

On Saturday, The Eagles had just 36% of possession. Chelsea had twice as many shots, but Palace had better ones. Palace controlled the battle in the way counter-punchers can. It deserved the victory. Pardew became the first coach anywhere to beat José Mourinho three times because his plan was smarter and his players carried it out better.

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West Ham has won at Arsenal and Liverpool, but lost at home to Leicester City and Bournemouth. That says something, though it might be about home fans. West Ham supporters are even more intolerant of a defense-first approach than those at Newcastle.

At Liverpool, West Ham had only 37% of possession. Liverpool had more shots.

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"We parked the bus but we didn't put the handbrake on,” Slaven Bilic, the West Ham manager, told the BBC.

His team knew how to accelerate away from defense. West Ham had five shots on target to just one by Liverpool. Manuel Lanzini pounced on sloppy defending to score the first goal and to set up the second.

Lanzini looked good on his debut. Perhaps one difference this season is that the growing flow of money into the Premier League means almost every club now packs a punch. Most have one or more strikers who are both quick and can score. Because home teams are expected to press, it’s easier to play on the counter on the road.

Suddenly, there’s no place like away.


The TV cameras failed to catch what the Manchester United manager had written on his note pad at Swansea on Sunday. But here is what he might as well have written as United threw away a lead and rather unraveled as it lost, 2–1.

“Buy a striker: someone big and fast who can score. That boy Falcao scored a spectacular header for Chelsea on Saturday. Make inquiries. My goalies do not concede soft goals at the near post. My bluff with Sergio Romero might not be working. Do not sell David de Gea unless Real Madrid gives us Keylor Navas.”


The transfer deadline looms, yet the Premier League is still allowing mere matches to distract from the important business of the mercato.

Saido Berahino and Victor Wanyama showed they have their priorities right this weekend. They were apparently not in the right state of mind to play for West Brom or Southampton, but instead were instead contemplating dream moves to 15th-place Tottenham.

Perhaps John Stones isn’t a committed modern professional. He will triple his wages, at the very least, if he moves to Chelsea. Nevertheless, he turned out for Everton at Tottenham on Saturday.

On the other hand, he had the satisfaction of an Everton clean sheet that followed Chelsea’s home loss. Stones knew his price had just gone up. Again.

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Perhaps before Chelsea splashes out on Stones, its scouts might want to have a glance at goalie stats.

The man who plays behind Stones, Tim Howard, has made more saves than any other Premier League goalie except Tim Krul at hapless Newcastle.

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Howard made six good saves on Saturday to take his tally for the season to 20 in four matches (Thibaut Courtois and Asmir Begovic, between them, have made 20 saves as Chelsea has conceded nine goals). That gives Howard a save percentage of 16.66, the same as Adrian. Unlike the West Ham goalie, Howard has not incurred a red card. Only Joe Hart (six saves, no goals) has been better.

Howard took some abuse for the goal he conceded to Aleksandar Kolarov during a generally stellar performance at City last weekend. On Saturday, the 6'2", 36-year-old American showed how to stay big while crouching low. Howard waited for a visibly uncertain Harry Kane to beat himself in a one-on-one. As he raced clear, Kane was looking around wondering where Stones was. The answer was: nowhere near.

Howard made two good and low close-range saves on Ryan Mason. The American also used his full height as he leapt and stretched claw over a dipping header from Toby Alderweireld. Howard was, quite rightly, man of the match.

If Stones does hit paydirt at Chelsea, he owes Howard a cut.


Perhaps the biggest transfer of the season was finally consummated on Sunday when Kevin De Bruyne completed a move to City for somewhere in the vicinity of £50 to £55 million (roughly $77 to $84.6 million).

Before he signed, De Bruyne might have been wise to watch the highlights of Aston Villa’s 2–2 draw with Sunderland on Saturday and the exploits of another attacking midfielder who has been bought by both Chelsea and Manchester City.

Scott Sinclair scored both Villa goals, which took his total to five in five days. That’s five times as many as he totaled over five seasons at Chelsea and three at City.

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Chelsea bought Sinclair from Bristol Rovers as a 16-year-old. Over the next five years he played in just five league matches and made 14 appearances in all, scoring just once. Sinclair went on loan six times before moving to Swansea. There he made 82 appearances and scored 26 goals in two seasons. He was lightweight but clearly talented and playing every week.

City came in, and Sinclair could not resist. The move, for a fee of £8 million, no doubt did wonders for Sinclair’s bank balance. In the prime of his career, from 23 to 26, Sinclair played in just 13 league games, made 17 total appearances for his club and scored no goals, though he did play 23 games elsewhere in two loan spells.

That record might look familiar to De Bruyne, who is 24. He appeared in just three league games in his one season at Chelsea. In all, he made nine appearances and did not score. In two full seasons (and one match this season), De Bruyne has played 72 games for Wolfsburg and scored 20 goals.

Of course, £55 million trumps £8 million or the £49 million City paid for Raheem Sterling during the off-season. But after watching the Villa highlights, De Bruyne might want to watch the second half of City’s 2–0 victory over Watford. Sterling, switched at half time, sparkled and scored in the central position De Bruyne, in addition to David Silva and Yaya Touré, likes.

In two years, either Sterling, who is clearly a fighter, or De Bruyne could be playing for Aston Villa.

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There were six red cards in the Premier League this week and most were the result of stupidity.

Steven Whittaker, the Norwich captain, earned the first of his two yellows for obstructing. Philippe Coutinho received his first yellow for dissent. They could not afford any more mistakes. Each made one and both went off.

There was a double dose of foolishness at Stoke. Pulis had clearly returned to his former roost at Stoke intent on ruffling the home team.

Ibrahim Afellay was quickly ruffled. He swung an arm after Craig Dawson dumped him over the hoardings early on, which only encouraged West Brom.

In the 25th minute, Craig Gardner tripped Afellay and then flicked a finger across the Dutchman’s chin. Afellay rose and gently slapped Gardner. Gardner briefly held his face for form’s sake, but it was clear no damage had been done. Any blow to the face is a red card and off went Afellay.

Six minutes later, Charlie Adam, signed for Stoke by Pulis to ruffle opponents, flipped Dawson over and then trod on his thigh before bending, concern on his face, to help his opponent up. Off went Adam.

On the sideline, Pulis and Mark Bowen, a Stoke assistant coach, had to be pulled apart.

Stoke, which has, according to OptaJoe, committed fewer fouls than any other team this season, played an hour with nine men and lost.

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