Manchester United’s defence completely imploded in their 6-1 loss to Spurs | Pool/Getty Images
What do you get if you combine a virtually nonexistent pre-season with the most physically-demanding football league in the world? The answer is an crisp, overflowing pint of Barclays, in an unprecedented season which has seen the entire league go gaga for goals.
From Son Heung-min, to James Rodríguez, to Mo Salah, it’s been brilliant to watch some of the most exciting attacking players in the world fill their boots, but what’s been even better is witnessing one of football’s greatest ever spectacles in match after match – some truly village defending.
The moment Virgil van Dijk stabbed a routine clearance to Patrick Bamford on the first weekend of the season, it became clear that the league’s elite defenders had collectively decided that they couldn’t really be bothered for this campaign, and you can’t switch on a telly now without seeing a centre-back make an absolute hash of a cross five minutes in.
Here’s 90min’s list of the worst defensive displays of the season, from the amateurish, to the unlucky, to the downright silly…
West Brom aren’t the first team to fall victim to Everton’s rampant early season form | Visionhaus/Getty Images
You’re tempted to give West Brom a little bit of a pass for this one – the Baggies were looking pretty good before Kieran Gibbs inexplicably decided to shove James to the ground under no pressure, and were only not leading at half-time because of an excellent goal from the Colombian.
But even before that, fans were forced to bear witness to a rancid piece of defending with West Brom possessing 11 men and still very much in the game, with Darnell Furlong’s header bouncing into Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s path pinball-style after Kyle Bartley was caught napping.
This utter confusion was very much a precursor to what followed, with West Brom’s depleted defence struggling to pick up a single one of Everton’s players from set-pieces in a chaotic second half.
Koch has fortunately been much improved since his debut | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
We all love brave Leeds United, the little football team that could, with their fearless attacking football and their maniacal press, and their single midfielder which leaves the entire back four exposed.
The Whites were obviously brilliant going forward in this game, one of the most thrilling opening weekend matches in years, but even the most rudimentary combination play was capable of carving them apart as Kalvin Phillips struggled to contain a flood of red shirts.
In the end it was the debutants Robin Koch and Rodrigo who were to blame for a heartbreaking loss, with the latter conceding one of the most needless last-minute penalties you will ever see, while inexperienced teenage centre-back Pascal Struijk was culpable for Salah’s second.
Lamptey had the run of things against Newcastle | Pool/Getty Images
In a league where the Champions of England can ship seven against the team which came 17th last year, a 3-0 defeat isn’t exactly the most outlandish result on this list, but it was the manner in which Newcastle collapsed which was most alarming.
The Magpies were cartoonishly bad at dealing with the young speedster Tariq Lamptey, and within four minutes Allan Saint-Maximin gave away a penalty after being given a taste of his own medicine by the prospect, who was way too quick for the Frenchman.
If your entire footballing philosophy is to avoid conceding one, it’s probably best that you don’t do that, and Newcastle unsurprisingly collapsed from there. Brighton scored three minutes later, and with Lamptey and Leandro Trossard given a free reign to rampage around the pitch, they were lucky it wasn’t more than the eventual three-goal margin.
Welcome to the Barclays! | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
You’re one of the greatest defenders in the history of the game, and you’re making your debut against arguably the second-worst team in the Premier League. You receive a simple pass from Mateo Kovačić in your own half: do you a) boot it into touch just to be safe, b) calmly recycle possession, or c) pass it straight to the onrushing West Brom striker and give him a clear run at goal.
Thiago Silva chose c) and Chelsea shipped three in one of the most ‘Welcome to the Premier League’ performances from any legend arriving on British shores, a match which also featured Bartley getting on the scoresheet after being the most unmarked anyone has ever been in the history of corners.
Frank’s men fought back, but Silva must have had an inkling of what it would’ve been like if he wasn’t suspended for the 2014 World Cup semi-final.
Maddison put the cherry on the icing on the cake with a screamer | CATHERINE IVILL/Getty Images
I’m going to cut Manchester City a little bit of slack here, because Leicester are no slouches, and they did concede three penalties during that weird weekend when VAR gave a spot kick if you so much as looked at someone funny.
But also, none of the penalties were handball related and were mostly given for City players deciding that the only solution to any Leicester attacker with a morsel of pace was to shove them over in the box.
So Rodri, I understand your point about Leicester being lucky here… but you’re still wrong.
Antonio was all over Wolves in this game | Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images
Conceding four = bad. Conceding four to West Ham = very, very bad.
Pablo Fornals being able to take a quick free-kick completely unopposed set the tone for an inauspicious evening for Wolves, and from then on in a usually solid back five had all the solidity of a Weetabix, with Michail Antonio alternating between bullying Romain Saïss and Conor Coady.
When the time came round for Sébastien Haller’s goal, he looked positively bored at how listless Wolves’ marking was, in what could have been a severe case of delayed Europa League hangover.
Four assists for Kane, four goals for Son | Robin Jones/Getty Images
It feels like I see a 5-2 scoreline in the Premier League more often than I see my family these days, and this was yet another bizarre one – what if I told you that Southampton were seconds away from going into half time as the comfortably superior side?
On the one hand, Spurs put away more or less every single chance offered to them in a Heung-min Son finishing clinic, with Harry Kane also choosing this game to turn into prime Deco.
On the other hand, the Saints went from running Matt Doherty and Eric Dier ragged in the first half to offering up the whole of the final third every time Kane turned on the ball with their ridiculously high defensive line.
Shambolic. | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Again, not a completely heinous scoreline in and of itself, but I’d like to highlight this match because it featured a piece of defending that was genuinely insulting to my eyes.
Having already shipped two goals which you would probably describe as ‘Fulham, that’ (i.e. defenders struggling with the concept of marking), the Cottagers’ attempts to deal with Conor Hourihane’s indirect free-kick quickly turned disastrous.
Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa just strolled through Fulham’s marking scheme like they were wearing slippers, and the former quite easily slotted home – it was like the sort of thing that used to happen on FIFA when the batteries ran out in your opponent’s controller. Awful.
Ollie Watkins won’t forget this game in a hurry | Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Let’s get this out of the way, Liverpool absolutely stunk out Villa Park here – Joe Gomez was trying to mark players that didn’t even exist and Jack Grealish had Van Dijk doing the Cha Cha Slide throughout.
BUT… some of those Villa goals were a little bit on the fortunate, deflection-y, weren’t they. It was probably much more of a 4-2 than a 7-2 (which might be the worst attempt at mitigation ever).
All of this is not to say that Liverpool were even remotely forgivable here – John McGinn just needed to dink it over the top and their frazzled defenders would do the rest of the work for him – but they’re not nearly as bad as the defenders involved in that result.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s worst ever day as a manager | Alex Livesey/Getty Images
I am utterly convinced that if Anthony Martial doesn’t get sent off in this game, or even better, if Erik Lamela gets sent off with him, you would still get this result 99 times out of 100.
Spurs didn’t even have to work that hard for their goals here – they just had to get the ball in good areas and wait for the inevitable miscommunication between Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire, or for Luke Shaw to leave an enormous gap on the flanks for Serge Aurier to occupy.
The abiding image of the game will be Aaron Wan-Bissaka, one of the finest one-on-one defenders in the league, getting comprehensively skinned by Ben Davies, a guy who has a phobia of the halfway line. There’s no coming back from this one.