The 10 maddest things from this very mad season of Barclays

Dave Tickner
Liverpool argue after Spurs decision plus Ten Hag
Liverpool argue after Spurs decision plus Ten Hag

Still plenty of time for some of these to be replaced, or for Nottingham Forest to take the whole top 10 for themselves if they continue along their current trend, but for now here’s the 10 maddest things we could think of from this very mad season.

If we missed off your favourite it’s either because you’re wrong and it wasn’t actually mad at all or more likely we forgot after addling our brains anew with this lot. Sorry about that.


10) The Provisional League Table
Just never been anything like this, has there? A whole relegation battle going on all season long, the majority of which has been spent not actually knowing definitively what the current points tally is for two of the key teams involved.

We’re now in the final week of April, with fewer than 50 Premier League matches left to be played, and we still don’t know for absolutely certain.

And we’ve not even mentioned Manchester City and those 115 charges. Whoops, sorry.

What the FFP is going on? Everton’s latest deduction, Forest appeal, Man City ‘expulsion’, Chelsea, Leicester…


9) The most underwhelming 6-0 win ever
Earlier this year, Arsenal beat Sheffield United 6-0 at Bramall Lane. In some ways, quite weird. Even in total mismatches like that, 6-0 wins between teams from the same division are quite rare. But what makes this stand apart from other rare 6-0 wins is that this was a 6-0 win that felt massively underwhelming. Because this felt like it was the chance for Barclays history. This felt like it was the 10-0 game we’ve all been waiting so patiently for these last three decades whether we realised it or not.

There have been now a good smattering of nines. But 10 remains the Barclays’ unconquerable Everest. And this particular game felt like the best shot we might ever get.

The context was this. At the time of their trip to Sheffield, Arsenal were on a quite ridiculous goalscoring run. Their last two away games had been won 6-0 and 5-0 before a 4-1 home win over Newcastle. Meanwhile, a Sheffield United side that had already lost 8-0 at home to Newcastle this season, and 5-0 at the Emirates, came into this fixture on the back of 5-0 defeats in their two previous home games against Villa and Brighton.

This, surely, was the one. Especially when Arsenal went 4-0 up inside 25 minutes. They could positively coast to 10 from there. But they only managed one more before half-time, and duly fell victim to one of football’s few truly immutable laws: that the only possible full-time results from a half-time score of 5-0 are 5-0, 5-1 or 6-0.

And thus Arsenal achieved something arguably even more impressive than a 10-0 win: a disappointing 6-0 one.

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8) Man United just allowing everyone to have all the shots
We still have no idea what Erik Ten Hag is trying to achieve with this. It’s not just that Manchester United concede an unprecedented number of shots on goal for a theoretically decent team, it’s that Ten Hag acts like it’s the whole plan and also surprised when it doesn’t work.

His failure to accept the existence of any correlation at all between shots allowed (and ‘allowed’ is very much the right word here) and conceding important and costly goals.

The numbers are astonishing. Only Luton and a historically inept Sheffield United have allowed opponents to have more shots at their goal than United’s 568, but it gets worse. Tweak that stat to shots per game to adjust for United having played fewer games than those two, and United are top of the pile. Or bottom, depending on how you want to look at it. They’ve allowed 17.75 shots per game.

For context, Arsenal and City are both in single figures on that metric. Liverpool, the most chaotic of the title challengers, allow a shade under 11 shots per game. Even Tottenham, who have this season frequently challenged the convention of even actually defending at all, allow only 12-point-something. Villa are at 11. And then there’s United allowing damn near 18 shots per game and wondering why they aren’t doing better while everyone else wonders how they aren’t doing even worse.

“Ah, but are they just letting teams have low-percentage shots from long range that pose no threat?” you ask. Fair enough question, but the answer is not really. The average shot distance of all non-penalty attempts against United is 16.9 yards, placing it firmly in the same ballpark as everyone else in a league where the number varies only from 15.3 (Villa) to 18.2 (Arsenal). And United have the fifth worst xG against in the division, behind the three promoted clubs and an inconsistent West Ham side always vulnerable to the occasional paddling.

According to the xG table, they are actually worse than Crystal Palace and Fulham.

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7) Mikel Arteta’s meltdown at Newcastle
This one was just bizarre. Yes, Newcastle’s winner against Arsenal at St James’ Park was unusual, given the multiple elements of doubt and how each one of those elements was pretty much a 50-50 shout – even if subsequent investigations do suggest the ball wasn’t out of play.

But what there was not for any one of those doubts was clear evidence to suggest Arsenal had been stitched up. There was nothing definitely, objectively, unquestionably wrong with the goal. It was, in essence, One Of Those. Except it was One Of Those in two or three different ways. Sure, annoying when it goes against you in a teak-tough title race. But still One Of Those.

Arteta came out after the match and called it a disgrace, embarking on a long-winded and quite mad rant about the staggering injustice of it all.

We have no real evidence for this, but out cod-psychology theory is that Arteta was, in a strange way, jealous of the righteous fury Liverpool had been able to engender from a very different, obviously and unmistakably disgraceful decision going against them at Tottenham and wanted a piece of that action for himself. But he jumped at the first such opportunity that came his way even though it just never fit the bill.

He, unlike the ball, was way over the line.

READ: Klopp and Arteta are both bleeps…so why do we like the Liverpool man so much more?


6) Fulham peeling off two 5-0 wins in four days
They’ve been sensational value this season, have Fulham. The thinking mid-table club’s mid-table club. They’ve gone about it entirely the right way, bothering the big boys enough to take four points off Arsenal and slap Spurs absolutely silly, while showing their whole entire arse against your Sheffield Uniteds and Burnleys.

But you need something else to sustain in the middle ground fixtures between those extremes, and Fulham have delivered here as well, peeling off 5-0 wins against Nottingham Forest and West Ham in the space of four giddy December days. Stretch that four days to a week, and you can also include a proper batsh*t 4-3 defeat at Anfield as well, if you like. Throw in the 3-2 win over Wolves the week before and you’ve got one of the greatest runs of entertainment from a mid-table team you could ever wish to see.

In the space of 14 days, Fulham scored 16 goals. Even now as we near the end of an entirely acceptable season, it constitutes almost a third of their season total. The 10 home goals they plundered between December 6 and December 10 2023 exceeded their entire home goal tally for the 2020/21 season. Beautiful stuff.


5) Tottenham’s 0-7-1 formation
Everything about Tottenham 1-4 Chelsea was just the very purest of Barclays cuts. As it so often is when these two collide. Battle of the Bridge. Handshakes. Poch ignoring Mourinho during an absurd 5-3 Spurs win back in 2015, when had you suggested to anyone that in the future those two would both manage the other club you would have been quite rightly punched in the face and told not to be so silly.

But this one is right up there with any of them. Partly because – and this also seems utterly mental now – Spurs were unbeaten at the time having bamboozled their way to 26 points from 10 games by having their full-backs play where full-backs have no business being and James Maddison in one of those spells where he looks like the best player in the league. “He’s the best player in the league,” said everyone. “Yes. Just wait a bit, though,” said Leicester fans who everyone foolishly ignored.

The consensus now is that Spurs have done well this season but not that well and that Ange Postecoglou might only be a very good football manager with sound opinions on stuff generally, rather than some kind of game-changing Aussie genius deity sent to revolutionise our whole sport.

Spurs are, it now turns out, still Spurs. But back in the Autumn, that kind of talk would have seen you arrested and thrown in jail. Ange was the Premier League’s new god, hoovering up manager of the month awards and garnering praise from all corners for his nerveless attacking football and liberal use of the word ‘mate’.

It seems insane now – and really should have at the time, but the Kool-Aid really was mighty potent – but such was the cult of Ange by November that not only did a 4-1 home defeat against a hated rival at a low ebb shake nobody out of their madness but was instead hailed as yet further evidence of Angeball’s greatness.

Mainly because his response to going down to nine men – at a time, remember, when the game was still 1-1 – was to shuffle his few remaining defenders into midfield and dispense with defending entirely.

It so befuddled Chelsea that for a brief time it actually looked like the never-before-attempted 0-7-1 formation might work. Then it didn’t work, and Nicolas Jackson scored a hat-trick. An absurd game that somehow generated an even more absurd reaction.


4) Cole Palmer and the Golden Boot
Chelsea and Spurs are going to feature a lot from here on, just to give you fair warning. They are the maddest teams in the division, after all. Chelsea, as is now customary, spent all summer spending too much money on players who they either didn’t really need or weren’t really worth it or more often both. Then, almost as an afterthought, they scooped up Cole Palmer from Manchester City. “That’s him f***ed, then” we all thought.

Because, by definition, he almost had to be sh*t, didn’t he? The best sellers in the English game cheerfully offloading an academy product to the worst buyers in the English game. There had to be something wrong with him. Sure, what little we’d seen suggested this was another Foden-esque gem that City had created, but we must all be wrong about that.

Instead, the 21-year-old playing his first proper full season of Barclays has near single-handedly kept Chelsea’s season afloat as he launches the unlikeliest of Golden Boot challenges on the Goal-a-tron 4000 at his old club.

Nobody could possibly have foreseen anything like it, and we’ve already established in a feature that fell down before it had started that Palmer would be by a very wide margin the most outlandish winner of the Golden Boot in Barclays history if he can pull it off.


3) Injury-time turnarounds
A general one, this, but we have thoroughly adored the sheer number of games this season featuring a complete turnaround in injury-time. Partly it’s a product of there being far more injury-time this season as, increasingly, officials take the wild approach of adding such time as to adequately reflect that which has been lost to incidental tish or very deliberate fipsy across the previous 45 minutes.

But it’s still been bonkers. Spurs – of course Spurs – have this season both won a game against Sheffield United they were losing as the clock ticked over to 97 minutes and lost one against Wolves they led for 88 minutes between Brennan Johnson’s opener and Pablo Sarabia’s injury-time equaliser.

Obviously any category of silliness that involves Spurs will surely have a bit of Chelsea and Man United in it, the two other conspicuously idiotic teams among the Premier League’s big beasts, and between them they contrived to deliver the best of the lot, with Manchester United 3-2 up at Stamford Bridge with 99 minutes played before Cole Palmer delivered one of the more ludicrous minutes of Premier League action in recent memory.


2) Nottingham Forest disappear down the rabbithole and then up their own arse
Just an absolutely astonishing, dignity-shredding meltdown from a once-proud football club. Appointing a referee lobbyist in the first place was the work of a club becoming unmoored from objective reality, and who knows whether Mark Clattenburg now truly believes his former colleagues are bent or he just doesn’t know how to extricate himself from the mess he’s found himself in after accepting such a stupid job in the first place.

We’re sort of kicking ourselves for being so surprised about the sheer majesty of Forest’s descent into conspiracy theory nonsense when it really was the only possible endpoint of the whole Clattenburg caper. If you’re appointing a referee lobbyist, you’re already in terminally online Arsenal fan levels of delusion and there probably was no other way for that to end than screaming “The VAR is a Luton fan” into the void one day and then the next day dressing up as a hot dog, lamenting that the VAR being a Luton fan has become an issue when that is the one thing you didn’t want to happen, and insisting that we’re all just trying to find the guy who did this.

There are serious concerns to be raised about this kind of pandering, grandstanding tosh from actual football clubs, but we’ve made those points elsewhere in between losing our own sh*t about Gladiators and are for now content to just laugh at the pomposity of their most recent attempts to double-down on their initial absurdity.

And the really good news is that absolutely none of us need ever feel bad about calling them Notts Forest ever again. Least they deserve, frankly.

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Take Tickers to task on the maddest moments of the season here.

1) Well Done Boys, Good Process
Nothing else can match it, can it? We’ve all seen bad decisions. We’ve all seen decisions we struggled to explain or justify. We’ve all been enraged, amused and baffled time and time again. But there has never been anything else quite like Luis Diaz’s disallowed goal at Tottenham.

It is quite literally the worst decision in Barclays history. It’s worse than the goalline technology failing that time, because there was no human idiocy involved there. It’s worse than Pedro Mendes’ disallowed goal at Old Trafford because there is the tiniest shred of mitigation for officials there who had one look at it from long distance (which still should have been enough, obviously) due and no chance of being up with the play given the speed with which it all unfolded. These are scandalous mistakes, sure, but at some level at least the tiniest bit understandable.

This, if you can imagine such a thing, was even worse than that time Nottingham Forest had a couple of half-decent penalty appeals waved away. Because there is absolutely no excuse for this one. No mitigation whatsoever, not for the VAR lads.

There is for the assistant referee who made the original on-field mistake; there always is.

We’ve long argued that judging offside is essentially impossible due to the need to have at least three eyes to do it properly and that the general accuracy of on-field offside decisions is one of the marvels of the age. With the need to keep an eye on at least three players and the ball, it is a wonder there aren’t more mistakes on field, frankly. This was a mistake. Diaz was, as the first replay clearly showed, onside. Very clearly onside. No need for drawing lines.

But alas he was so onside that the lads half-watching (and we’re being generous here) the game in the VAR cupboard assumed the goal had been given, only realising too late and to their abject, meme-generating horror, that they had completely and utterly f***ed it.

Quite simply one of the funniest and stupidest moments in Barclays history, and one that still has rich potential to bubble right back to the top of the agenda if Liverpool can somehow keep themselves within three points of the eventual title winners when the music stops. Try and poach Clattenburg, would be our advice. There’s still time for that replay.

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