Attack Versus Defence – The Premier League Story Unfolds
As the current Premier League campaign begins to unravel, and teams start to find their place in the standings, it’s abundantly clear that this season possibly more than any other before it is going to be a nail-biting title race. So much so that already much emphasis has been placed on goals scored and indeed those conceded. Could it be that come next spring we’re looking at goal difference as the deciding factor?
Fergie’s recent assertion that there are indeed 5 teams capable of winning the title may well hold true, but he would be wise to look a little closer to home when sifting through the pretenders. To exclude Chelsea and in their place make Man Utd challengers looks a tad nepotistic in light of recent results and the demolition of the red half of Manchester at Stamford Bridge suggested two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their evolution.
For now the top five consists of Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham – and come the end of the season it would appear those five teams will be battling it out. The contrast between the teams is a little hard to gauge, Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham all work tirelessly off the ball, pressing and harrying the opposition, but in a slight deviation from recent seasons it would appear Wenger and Arsenal have adapted their style to do more of the same. With the energetic Alexis Sanchez leading the line, Arsenal have a player with similar characteristics to a Luis Suarez or more currently Roberto Firmino, leading from the front, closing defenders down and forcing mistakes.
Chelsea under Conte also don’t lack effort and in much the same way as their manager once played, Matic and Kante get through the work of four men at the base of their midfield. Of these five teams only Tottenham look to be struggling slightly in the goals department, although the performance against City would suggest that when it’s right it’s near perfect, and with Harry Kane who scored 28 goals last season due to return from injury it would appear this is a temporary glitch.
Of the other four teams Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Man City have all amassed over twenty goals in their ten games so far an impressive stat at this stage of the season – in fact Man City and Liverpool’s twenty four goals for is an alarming figure for the rest of the Premier League to ponder.
Each of these sides possess an array of attacking talent and are capable of blowing teams away in the first half of games which would suggest it is not in the goals scored department where this season will be decided. The least goals scored in a title winning season was by Man Utd in the first Premier League campaign scoring a paltry 67 goals but still coming out on top, the most goals scored was by Chelsea in 2009/10 when they amassed 103 goals to lift the title.
Indeed scoring goals does not always guarantee success, Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle labeled the ‘entertainers’ for their all out attacking style actually scored just 66 goals in that famous season which was less than both United and Liverpool, however their goals against proved pivotal in the crucial points they dropped. Liverpool’s title challenge under Brendan Rogers also came unstuck due to a leaky defence, they scored an impressive 101 goals that season with Man City scoring 102 and topping the table, however conceding 50 goals was decisive.
Last season Leicester played an exciting brand of counter attacking football but it was the 15 clean sheets they kept that was crucial in securing a shock title – only Arsenal kept more clean sheets with 16 and unsurprisingly finished second. Tottenham in third had the overall best defence and bar a beleaguered final day 5-1 defeat at the hands of Newcastle they would have comfortably topped that statistic.
So where does this leave us in terms of this season? Well with the current top 5 scoring goals for fun, it will surely be the strongest defence that wins the day. As it stands Tottenham lead the way again with only 5 goals conceded in 10 games. Liverpool have conceded 13 and only have 1 clean sheet that came in that woeful game against United at Anfield. Man City and Chelsea both have single digits against with 9, and since Conte reverted to his preferred back three they haven’t conceded a goal with four clean sheets on the bounce. Perhaps Klopp’s stats are the most worrying when it comes to mounting a title challenge. Since taking over at Liverpool just over a year ago, and overseeing 65 games Liverpool have scored an incredible 121 goals, however they have shipped an astonishing 72 at the other end. It’s not all doom and gloom however, during his first season in charge at Borussia Dortmund they conceded 37 goals finishing the season in sixth, the following season they finished fifth conceding 42 before incredible back to back title successes in 2010/11 and 2011/12. In 2010/11 Klopp’s Dortmund conceded a measly 22 goals to top the table and the following year only 25 goals, impressive stuff. If he can affect the same change on this Liverpool back line who knows what they could achieve.
Antonio Conte’s newly shaped stubborn Chelsea defence is no surprise. He guided Juventus to three successive Serie A titles built on solid foundations. His favoured back three with two wing backs, was at the heart of these successes and across those three seasons his team only conceded 67 goals in total at an average of 22.3 goals per season. With John Terry on the bench and Kurt Zouma returning from injury – Fergie had better beware, this Chelsea team are in the title race.
Arsene Wenger’s teams have always played a wonderful brand of attacking football and their so called frailties in defence are something of an anomaly. As previously stated it was indeed Arsenal who kept the most clean sheets in the Premier League last season and with solid looking reinforcements in place, they should go very close this year. During his twenty year reign Arsenal have never dropped out of the top four places and with a stronger looking back line in place and blossoming partnership between Mustafi and Koscielny, they’ll most certainly do the same again this time.
As it stands they’ve conceded ten in ten, it’ll be interesting how they cope with the dreaded month of November and a tricky set of fixtures.
Pep Guardiola has a surprisingly impressive record in terms of his teams defensive capabilities. For all his quirks and beliefs of playing the ball out from the back, using the keeper as a sweeper, and favouring oftentimes midfielders in his backline, the short in stature Mascherano, and more recently Fernando at City.
In his four seasons in charge of Barcelona, they had the overwhelmingly strongest defence on each occasion. In fact his goal difference for the four seasons was +303!! At Bayern Munich during his three championship winning seasons between 2013-2016, his team only conceded 23, 18 and 17 goals, albeit with four less games played over the course of a season in Germany. It will be interesting to see how his possession based game fares in the rough and tumble of the Premier League.
And finally Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham topped the defensive standings last season and do so again now with a mere 5 goals conceded in the first ten games. In his one full season in charge of Southampton they conceded 46 goals but ended with a +8 goal difference and finished an impressive eighth in the standings.
During his three full seasons in charge of Espanyol there is no clear indicators to his now staunch defensive system. They conceded 157 goals in the league during his time there, however Espanyol are a small club in a big footballing city. Given Pochettino’s young age, it’s fair to say he’s improving vastly season upon season.
This could turn out to be one of the highest scoring Premier League season’s on record, so could it be that the team who concedes the least goals will find themselves on top of the table?