The current campaign is shaping up to be the most competitive EPL season ever, would this be the case at the end of the 2020/21 campaign?
When the Premier League got suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, nobody knew what the future held and despite the fact that football activities resumed roughly three months later, things have not been the same since then.
For starters, some of the best stadiums in the Premier League are currently devoid of fans, as governments around the world still are enforcing social distancing measures, while footballers themselves have felt the impact of the virus.
The backlog of fixtures due to the time lost made it imperative for football post-lockdown to be played at a congested rate and the trickle down effect rolled over into the new season.
All clubs, particularly those contesting on the continent have played an alarming number of games in the last four months and this has taken a considerable toll on the players’ bodies, with muscle injuries becoming more frequent.
The absence of a pre-season or proper rest time following the conclusion of the last campaign only served to exacerbate matters and fatigue has already set in despite it being just seven matchdays in.
The fallback has seen several top teams drop points and a cursory glance at the Premier League table reveals unfamiliar clubs occupying the top spots on the table.
With the exception of Liverpool, none of the other clubs occupying the top five spots were among those earmarked to challenge for the league title at the start of the season.
Although it is still early days, the season is shaping up to be one where the top guns would flounder and an opportunity could be there for one of the outsiders to win a maiden Premier League title.
What signs suggest that this might be the most competitive EPL season ever?
There are many reasons to believe that this could be the most competitive EPL season ever and we shall be taking a look at factors which back this up.
#1. Empty Stadiums in the Premier League gives an advantage to visiting teams
Since Project Restart in June, empty stadiums have become the new normal and this has had a concordant effect on the performance of teams on the field.
It is a well-worn maxim that fans in the stands are the ’12th man,’ as they give the players an extra boost and motivation to up the ante and get the desired result.
However, in the absence of fans, visiting teams become bolder and are not afraid of going all out for victory, while home sides are generally less effective than they usually are.
Proof of this lies in the fact that the average points gotten at home in the Premier League this season is a paltry 1.24 points per game. Last season, home teams got on average 1.6 points per game (1.7 before lockown).
The absence of fans in the Premier League grounds has rewritten the narrative and boosted the confidence of visiting teams, thereby increasing the competitiveness of the league.
#2. Inadequate recuperation time is taking a major toll on teams
The new Premier League season kicked off on September 12 but just six weeks in, most clubs have played in excess of 10 matches. This is especially tougher for some of the biggest clubs, with Tottenham perhaps the worst-affected team.
Jose Mourinho’s side have already played 12 matches, which would have been 13 had their Third Round fixture against Leyton Orient in the League Cup not been canceled.
A particularly jarring seven-day period saw the club play four matches in three different competitions, the Premier League, Europa League qualifiers, and League Cup.
Furthermore, unlike previous seasons where continental competitions were played fortnightly, this season has seen games take place weekly, as UEFA tries to balance up the calendar to keep on track for scheduled events.
This extra workload has taken a severe toll on the top clubs in the Premier League (and across other European leagues) and a common trend has seen the elite cubs falter immediately after their continental exertions.
This gives an opportunity for the smaller sides to take advantage and we have already seen indications of this, suggesting that this season would be one of the most unpredictable in history.
#3. Most of the top sides have issues to sort out
There is not really any club in the Premier League this season that can be identified as complete and all the top sides have one or several issues that they are yet to iron out.
Liverpool might have won the league in a breathtaking fashion last season, but the Reds were rocked by a long-term injury sustained to Virgil Van Dijk, while fitness issues to other first-team defenders has seen the Anfield outfit linked with signing Kalidou Koulibaly.
Manchester City have stuttered in the last one year and seem to have reached their peak under Pep Guardiola, while their city rivals are still their usual inconsistent selves.
Chelsea were the biggest spenders last summer but Frank Lampard is yet to find a functional system to accommodate his new signings. Tottenham might have impressed in part, with the Son and Kane connection firing on all cylinders but they have also suffered from inconsistency.
The struggles currently being experienced by the top sides would lead to unexpected dropped points and much like 2016, there is a real opportunity for one of the less-fancied sides to stake their claim for glory.