In an oddly eventful evening of football, Aston Villa and Sheffield United drew 0-0 at Villa Park.
The match was marked by one moment of madness and a technological blunder. What did we learn?
1. Black Lives Matter
Before a ball had even been kicked, Aston Villa and Sheffield United had made it a bold statement that would reverberate around the world. As Michael Oliver blew the whilst for kick-off, all 22 outfield players (and Oliver too) took a knee for a few seconds.
Taking a knee has become the defacto gesture of the movement, which protests police brutality, since Colin Kaepernick began doing it in the NFL. The quarter-back was blackballed for his actions, but now athletes the world over have begun taking a knee in solidarity.
For every single player to take a knee, and to do so without any build-up from the television broadcast, indicates it’s something the players thought up themselves rather than a league-wide initiative as with all the players names being replaced by the words “Black Lives Matter” on the back of their shirts.
— Kick It Out (@kickitout) June 17, 2020
Not that the shirt names being changed is a bad thing, but they could easily be an empty corporate gesture. An empty offering that will be easily forgotten. The players taking unified action, however, indicates that the Premier League stars are not only well aware of what is going on but are no longer remaining apolitical in the face of police brutality. And that is not only a gamechanger but means that there’s a much greater chance that change can be pushed through (change like the introduction of a Rooney Rule for head coaching recruitment).
In a week that saw Marcus Rashford humiliate and then coerce the UK government into extending free school meals into the summer and has now seen Premier League footballers declare, unanimously, that Black Lives Matter, it’s clear that we have entered a new era.
2. Nyland and the good fortune of broken technology
With a few minutes to go until half-time, Oli Norwood sent a free-kick flying into the area. Orjan Nyland came to get the ball but misjudged the flight of it and bumped into his own defender when he jumped to collect it, leading to him stumbling backwards over the line before quickly stepping out and looking very guilty.
Hawkeye didn’t buzz, VAR wasn’t called, Michael Oliver did nothing. So everyone assumed it was an optical illusion and that hey, maybe Nyland didn’t drag it over the line? Then TV replays showed that the ball was, in fact, over the line. Clearly so. Nothing was done, everyone was confused, and the game continued on as normal.
It wasn’t working 😂
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) June 17, 2020
It later emerged that the the players were positioned in such a way that for the first-time in over 9,000 matches, the Hawkeye cameras were obstructed and could not accurately judge the position of the ball relative to the line. Obviously VAR wouldn’t have known this, so won’t have intervened because, hey, who can doubt technology right?
Nyland can count his lucky stars for goal-line technology’s failures, because the error was genuinely terrible. He wasn’t under massive pressure he just completely flubbed at collecting what should have been a simple cross. But thanks to the Hawkeye error, no one will focus on his mistake and instead lament the failure of the supposedly infallible technology.
Hawk-Eye statement on the goal line incident during Aston Villa v Sheffield match this evening. pic.twitter.com/I2u5lqKMqe
— Hawk-Eye Innovations (@Hawkeye_view) June 17, 2020
3. Unlike the real thing, England’s fake crowds need work
In La Liga, they use a fake crowd noise that is almost seamless. You are aware it’s not the real thing, but when you start watching a game and get into the flow of things, you get caught up in the momentum and it comes off like a real if a but underwhelming crowd.
By contrast, the Premier League’s sound effects were obviously fake. Barely audible at the start to absurdly loud and mistimed later on. They failed to create a sense of propulsion as real crowds, especially the Premier League’s real crowds, often do.
The thing about the Premier League, especially clashes like Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United, is that the propulsion provided by the crowd genuinely does improve the match. Without it, things can be incredibly slow and sterile.
4. Captain Jack takes a whack
Jack Grealish somehow manages to make even the most mundane matches worth watching, and not just because he has braided his hair quite spectacularly. The Aston Villa captain is a dancing machine with the ball at his feet and carries the ball up the pitch so well that he always draws the aggression of opponents.
Jack Grealish has won a foul every 18 minutes in the Premier League so far this season and is the only player to hit triple figures.
It must be those low socks. pic.twitter.com/JmU6OVf4es
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 17, 2020
No one has been fouled more than Jack Grealish this season. No one is even close. Coming into today Grealish had won 127 fouls so far this season, 33 more than second place Wilf Zaha. On average the Villa skipper got fouled every 18 minutes in the Premier League, and today he added 4 to his total. Grealish is a fantastic player full of flair, but he is phenomenally battle hardened as well.
5. Henderson Stands Tall
In contrast to Orjan Nyland, Dean Henderson managed to impress on the Premier League’s re-debut. The English goalkeeper has been one of the best shot-stoppers in this season, and not just because he isn’t carrying the ball into his own net from free-kicks.
Henderson’s command of his area as well as ability to get down and palm shots away is genuinely impressive. Aston Villa didn’t really get a look-in as Henderson, arguably the best goalkeeper whose registration is held by Manchester United, kept his 11th clean sheet of the season.
No goalkeeper in the Premier League has kept more clean sheets this season than Dean Henderson:
🏴 Dean Henderson (11)
🏴 Nick Pope (11)
🇧🇷 Alisson (10)
🇩🇰 Kasper Schmeichel (10)
Two Englishmen at the top. pic.twitter.com/9iRq0qSw67
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 17, 2020
If this kind of form continues, the Red Devils will have a real decision to make this summer.