The Stats Behind Premier League ‘Big Four’ Fixtures
There was a time, not too long ago, when the big games in the Premier League made everyone stop what they were doing and watch.
And they were rarely disappointed. Just last season, the league witnessed a thrilling 5-3 win for Liverpool at Anfield when Chelsea were the visitors on July 22.
The Reds, who went on to win the title, led 3-0 with the interval approaching, but Olivier Giroud’s goal on the stroke of half-time threw Chelsea a lifeline.
Roberto Firmino restored Liverpool's three-goal cushion early in the second half, but Frank Lampard's side set up a thrilling finale with two goals in 12 minutes.
Jurgen Klopp's side put the game to bed with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's strike six minutes from time. It remains Oxlade-Chamberlain's last goal for the Reds.
That was one of 12 meetings between the big four – Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United – last season that averaged 3.33 goals per game.
Big 4 Goals Per Game:
- 2.16 - 2016/17
- 2.66 - 2017/18
- 2.58 - 2018/19
- 3.33 - 2019/20
But this season, that goal average has slumped to 1.62 goals after the eight games played between the four sides who have won more games than anyone else since the start of the 2016/17 campaign.
Fifth-placed Chelsea return to Anfield on Thursday one point clear of the champions who are battling to finish in the top four.
This will be Thomas Tuchel's first trip to Anfield as the boss of the Blues and a repeat of that eight-goal thriller would be nice.
However, the results this season between the same four clubs suggest goals will be at a premium.
So far this season, the eight matches involving the big four have produced a total of just 13 goals.
The good news is that when Chelsea go to Anfield, there are usually goals.
The last time Anfield witnessed a goalless draw in a league meeting between these two sides came almost half a century ago when the two sides shared the points in a 0-0 draw on Saturday, 9 October, 1971.
Since then, there has been at least one goal in the 40 league meetings contested.
Both Liverpool and Chelsea enter their crucial meeting at Anfield needing a win to keep alive their hopes of finishing in the top four and qualifying automatically for next season's Champions League.
With that in mind, it is hoped both sides try to win the game and not settle for a point in another goalless draw.
On Sunday, the runaway league leaders Manchester City go into the second Manchester derby of the season at the Etihad Stadium 15 points clear of second-placed United after beating Wolves 4-1 on Tuesday night.
It was City's 21st successive win in all competitions and their 15th in the league. Sunday's derby will be the tenth meeting of 12 between the big four this season.
Still To Play:
- Thursday: Liverpool v Chelsea
- Sunday: Man City v Man United
- May 1: Man United v Liverpool
- May 8: Man City v Chelsea
City have scored in all 16 league games they have played since the last Manchester derby which ended goalless.
All four of United's meetings against the other big three have ended without a goal being scored and that includes Sunday's 0-0 draw at Chelsea.
Had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side been more positive at Stamford Bridge and perhaps other big games, then United might be sitting comfortably in second place and still with a chance of catching City at the top of the table.
In their last 40 Premier League fixtures, Solskjaer's side have been involved in seven goalless draws in the top flight. That's one every 5.7 games.
To put that into context, Sir Alex Ferguson ended his time in charge of United with 10 goalless draws in his last 229 league games which works out to be one every 22.9 games.
- Ferguson: 10 goalless draws in his last 229 games (4.36%), 1 every 22.9 games
- Solskjaer: 7 goalless draws in his last 40 PL games (15%). 1 every 5.7 games
United's inability to turn this season's goalless stalemates into wins has and will continue to hinder their chances of being crowned league champions for the first time since 2013 – Ferguson's last in charge of United.
The arrival of creative midfielder Bruno Fernandes was described as the final piece of United's jigsaw and his performances have lived up to that billing with 23 goals and 17 assists since arriving at Old Trafford in January 2020.
But not against the top sides. Fernandes has yet to score a league goal in six meetings against Chelsea, City or Liverpool.
Fernandes, who is one of the favourites to win the PFA Player of the Year award, has two more opportunities to break his duck against United's rivals before the season ends starting with CIty on Sunday.
If his drought against the big teams continues, then it might work against the Portuguese playmaker when the votes are counted.
Another factor that could dent Fernandes' chances of winning the elite award, is his constant bickering with opponents and referees which could cost him some crucial votes.
After the widespread criticism United received for their negative approach to big games against their rivals this season, Sunday would be a good time to silence their critics with a more adventurous approach against a City side that has conceded a goal in three of their last four league games after conceding in three of their previous 16 league fixtures.
Big 4 Results This Season:
- September 20: Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool
- October 24: Man United 0-0 Chelsea
- November 8: Man City 1-1 Liverpool
- December 12: Man United 0-0 Man City
- January 3: Chelsea 1-3 Man City
- January 17: Liverpool 0-0 Man United
- February 7: Liverpool 1-4 Man City
- February 28: Chelsea 0-0 Man United
TV broadcasters are accused of overhyping these games and it's hard to argue that point.
Let's hope the goals return to these games otherwise their appeal will continue to diminish.
The Premier League is arguably the biggest league in world football and it would be nice if the big games produced a few more thrills than they have this season.
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