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:
2. The Premier League isn’t really conceding that many more goals than any other major league in Europe. I looked through some of the mid-season statistics for the English Premier League, German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga, and Italian Serie A. The other three leagues have played fewer games so far than the EPL. La Liga has the highest average amount of goals scored per match week at 28.5. The Premier League is second with 28.35 followed by Serie A at 27.6 and last the Bundesliga’s 26.1. The numbers are close across the board.
Serie A is the league with the most clean sheets, 127, followed by the EPL at 99, La Liga with 93 and the Bundesliga with 77. Serie A has most always been associated with this, so there’s no big surprise there. Clean sheets would probably be the one statistic that really separates the Premier League from their continental rivals, but even there the only league that really stands out is Serie A. The other two leagues are just about on par.
So while defending is seen as a big issue that “needs” to be dealt with in the Premier League, it seems to be as much of an issue in other leagues.
3. Goals make the English Premier League more interesting. The number one reason to stop worrying about the so-called poor defending is that it only adds more drama to the most exciting league in the world. It makes sense that more goals are being scored. The Barclays Premier League is one that is played at near breakneck speed with most matches involving non-stop action. The term “end to end” is applied as a cliché for almost every match.
The Premier League tends to have teams that play very direct, attacking soccer that is fun to watch. If that means that the defending is sacrificed (at least for now) then so be it. I’m going to sit back and enjoy the show. Soccer is an ever-evolving sport and just because teams are less defensive at the moment, does not mean that this will always be the case.
What is being lamented as a lack of defending this season is by no means a crisis. It only adds to the drama and fast-paced play that set the Premier League apart and make it the most exciting league to watch.
What do you think? Is there truly a lack of defending this season? Is it compromising the quality of the Premier League?
Todd Shenk can be found at www.PremierSoccerChat.com.