Pretty much every pundit of the Premier League has bemoaned the lack of defending in the league this season. This may seem like a bad thing for the Premier League, but I’m going to make the case that it doesn’t really matter and, if anything, it’s a good thing.
Yes, defending is important, but it isn’t what defines the sport. In soccer, there always needs to be a balance of scoring and defending. Tactics and formations tend to come and go as far as what is considered to be in vogue, but most people will agree that every great team has a solid defense that drives them. The point being simply that defense tends to win titles. Look at last year’s Champions League final in which Chelsea, as the clear underdogs, sat back and defended well to push the match into penalty kicks where their goalkeeper (last line of defense) kept Bayern Munich from scoring.
There are many fans out there who whine about the style of play that teams like Stoke City, West Ham or Sunderland utilize by sitting back and defending, often hoping to get a long ball counter goal for a 1-0 win. This is seen as being boring and an abomination of the sport, by some. (I for one feel that it is fair game, and not at all easy to pull off.)
This brings me to my point. Most fans of the sport want their team to play “pretty” soccer. They might talk about how soccer is a contact sport and how their team may have “put in a shift,” but most fans want to see their team attacking and scoring and playing nice passes to win. Every fan is jealous of Barcelona and how they play (me included if I really care to admit it). Their possession and passing style of play is quite different from a team like Stoke, where they allow their opponent to control large amounts of time on the ball. In their 3-1 win over Liverpool they had only 38% of the possession. Obviously it’s not how much you have the ball, but what you do with it (they also had 10 shots with 5 of those on goal).
Here are the three main reasons why the so-called lack of defending in the Premier League isn’t really such a big deal:
1. Defending is overrated if you have the players to get you wins. Five teams in the top seven have allowed 21 or more goals this season. These include:
- Manchester United in first place (16-1-3 on 49 points), who also boast 50 goals scored to their 28 allowed for a goal difference of 22
- Tottenham in fourth place (11-3-6 on 36 points), with 36 scored and 26 allowed
- Arsenal in fifth place (9-6-4 on 33 points), with 39 scored and 21 allowed
- Everton in sixth place (8-9-3 on 33 points), with 33 scored and 25 allowed
- West Bromwich Albion in seventh (10-3-7 on 33 points), with 28 scored and 25 allowed.
Allowing goals has not gotten in the way of these clubs’ success so far this year. Of those five teams, Arsenal has the most clean sheets (7) followed by West Brom and Tottenham with 5, Manchester United with 4 and Everton with 2. Interestingly enough Manchester United allowed 33 goals in all of last season, so they are certainly allowing more goals, but they are making up for it by scoring enough to get wins. Each of these five teams falls into that same category. They are able to get wins simply because they go out and score enough to get the win: