English Premier League insanity will get worse: Neil Humphreys
No crowds, no breaks and no pre-season ensure erratic games
The general response to the weirdest weekend in English Premier League history has been predictably depressing.
Manchester United and Liverpool shipped 13 goals between them on the same day and those with their snouts in the trough cannot say the unsayable.
So we pretend. We indulge ourselves in an EPL land of make-believe. We blame reserve goalkeepers and shattered centre-backs in the desperate hope that no one mentions the C-word.
Do anything but mention the C-word.
Talk about Adrian's inability to play a pass or ridicule Harry Maguire's decision to take a leave of absence from his own body.
Ramble on about Manchester United's lack of midfield protection and Joe Gomez's toils in Liverpool's defence. Play dumb and assume that the daftest results in EPL history being recorded on the same day that the United Kingdom reported its highest number of Covid-19 cases was pure coincidence.
Ignore the empty stands. Sidestep the leggy performance from the Reds representing a city with one of the highest infection rates in Britain and prop up the charade.
As chummy pundits rant and weep about their sides' loss of hunger, spirit and the usual cliches of choice, think about what they glossed over.
Liverpool's best player is out with Covid-19.
Liverpool's new Plan B is also out with Covid-19.
Sadio Mane's athletic presence usually defines the Reds' high pressing game. Their attacking generally flows through their affable conduit.
Thiago Alcantara was signed precisely for games like the 7-2 Aston Villa debacle. When plucky sides drop balls behind Liverpool's high line, Thiago was going to be ready with his cerebral passing game to pick pockets from the centre circle.
But Thiago and Mane are out with the most infectious disease in a century, despite working within a sanitised cocoon.
Did they infect others? Who knows? Clearly, such thoughts only tarnish the product, so let's focus on Adrian's awful passing instead. That's more palatable.
But Adrian's fifth error in 21 appearances only showed that Liverpool had been here before. Usually, they overcome defensive errors, but not in these bizarre circumstances.
Like every other club, the Reds had no real pre-season, no proper preparation and no crowd - a key factor as their 12th man always makes its presence felt.
Thanks to their continental obligations, United had even less time to recover between seasons and less time for executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to mismanage his dealings in the transfer market on behalf of an inexperienced manager.
Poor coaching and inept transfer negotiations are nothing new at Old Trafford.
The differences are an empty stadium and jittery owners worrying about a pandemic that is damaging both the American and British economies.
Fatigue on the pitch, caution in the boardroom and silence on the terraces have altered the game's complexion like never before.
Blaming erratic results on a dodgy goalkeeper or centre-back insults the viewer's intelligence.
Aston Villa's outstanding performance should not be underestimated. Ollie Watkins already looks a bargain and his creative partnership with Jack Grealish promises to be one of the season's highlights.
Similarly, Jose Mourinho clearly relished humiliating the club that fired him and Spurs' momentous 6-1 win after a crazy run of fixtures - five games in 11 days - would challenge the negative impact of Covid-19.
After all, Tottenham, Villa and West Ham United, who stuffed Leicester City a week after the Foxes stuffed Manchester City, face the same logistical obstacles.
But the overriding trend reflects a league playing on through a health crisis. One freak result is fun. Two on the same day is a pattern.
Like climate change deniers analysing weather events in isolation, the EPL is focusing on the minutiae of individual matches rather than addressing the fact that once-in-a-generation results are happening once a week (or more).
Liverpool have conceded 11 goals in four league games for the first time since the 1937/38 season. The Reds are the first reigning English top-flight champions to concede seven goals in a league match since 1953.
Sunday was also the first time that both Liverpool and Manchester United conceded at least six goals in a match on the same day. Ever.
These are not oddities, but a consequence of a league that insists on powering through a pandemic, even as managers and players continue to test positive and weary colleagues struggle to mind the gaps.
So accept that the crowd's unique power to lift brittle performers has now gone and prepare for more unforced errors and bizarre goal tallies.
Whether that's a good thing or not really depends on your point of view.
But recent scorelines probably shouldn't be written off as temporary insanity. Things will only get madder.