Crystal Palace goal drought a freak occurrence but may continue vs. Man United
It could be portrayed as the resistable object against the immovable force. When Crystal Palace kick off at Old Trafford on Saturday, it will be 139 days since they have scored a league goal. It will be 153 since Manchester United have conceded one at home. It is a far more spurious statistic, but it will be 1,966 since Roy Hodgson saw his side score in the league.
It may seem the safest bet in football that United will keep a clean sheet, and not just because Palace will be without both their best striker, Christian Benteke, and the finest winger, Wilfried Zaha. Their lone front man could be Bakary Sako, whose last league goal came in August -- August 2015, that is. Their hosts' defensive record is impressive but not exceptional: Jose Mourinho also began a season with five clean sheets in the first six league games at Chelsea in 2004-05, while the following year his iron rearguard started with six straight shutouts.
But Palace's drought is historic. In 129 years since the Football League was founded, no other top-flight side has ever lost their first six games without scoring. It is not just extraordinary, but it has the feel of an anomaly in many respects. Even Derby's infamous 11-point team who became officially the worst in Premier League history mustered four goals in their first six games.
And they had less Premier League pedigree than Palace. Take Benteke's record with bottom-half sides. There have been few more-consistent scorers at this level: in four seasons with first Aston Villa and then Palace, he has delivered 19, 10, 13 and 15 league goals. The law of averages suggests he would probably have two by this stage of the season. Palace scored 50 last season and 136 in the previous three campaigns, a ratio that indicates they should have seven by now.
The precedents from the past tally with the statisticians' figures. Palace's expected goals total is 6.92. Go by expected goals and they should have beaten Burnley 1.98-0.28. Instead they lost 1-0. For those who are sceptical about the new addition to the game's lexicon, more-old-fashioned figures show how improbable it is that Palace are yet to score.
They had 23 shots at Burnley alone. In all, they have had 76, the ninth most in the league: Chelsea have only had six more and Alvaro Morata has six goals on his own. Palace have had 15 more attempts than Leicester and 13 more than Watford, who have scored nine goals apiece.
If expected goals is an attempt to quantify the quality of a chance, the naked eye also offers evidence that some of Palace's opportunities have not just been wildly optimistic long-range efforts. Many have come at key moments when they would have secured points.
For instance, there was the moment at Anfield when Benteke blazed over from six yards at 0-0. Palace went on to lose 1-0. Southampton beat them by the same scoreline but Fraser Forster made a brilliant point-blank block from the Belgian before producing a similarly agile piece of goalkeeping to prevent Jason Puncheon equalising.
At Burnley, in what proved Frank de Boer's final game in charge, Scott Dann missed from four yards when he had a golden opportunity to level. The centre-back could conceivably have had a hat trick at Turf Moor: he was also denied by two goal-line clearances. Even in the 5-0 thrashing at Manchester City, Ruben Loftus-Cheek hit the post before Leroy Sane broke the deadlock.
Perhaps Palace have been ill-fated from the start. After their opening-day 3-0 defeat to Huddersfield, the victorious manager singled out his goalkeeper Jonas Lossl for praise. "He kept us in the game with two unbelievable saves," David Wagner said.
That can happen in low-scoring sports. When goals are at a premium, games can boil down to a few incidents, great saves or glaring misses, moments when a shot is inches away from going in. The freak element is when it carries on happening; the cliche that the luck evens itself out is usually at least partly true. Yet the chances are that it will get freakier. Their next two games pit them against United, with their impeccable home record, and Chelsea, who have 19 clean sheets in 38 league games under Antonio Conte.
If so, Palace, already the only team in Europe's top five divisions who are yet to score, will reach Oct. 21 without a league goal. Their place in the record books may be secured for generations to come. To some extent, they are architects of their own misfortune. In De Boer, they chose the wrong manager. He deployed the wrong tactics. Yet they have also been unfortunate. By most criteria, they should have scored several times already. Instead their barren run has gone on and on. And given their next couple of fixtures, it could continue.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.