The Premier League has often been trumpeted as the best in the world (mostly by those with a vested interest). Top teams, top players, top entertainment. It’s triffic. The stats suggest a slightly different story, with the much maligned Serie Afor example having had fewer 0-0 draws and a greater goal average over previous years – not that stats really solve the argument.
This season however, things have gone a little crazy. The goals are flying in from all angles, and the stats tell their own story. After ten league games this season, Chelsea have already conceded 15 goals – that’s the number they conceded in the whole of their title winning campaign of 2004/05. Before last week, Chelsea hadn’t conceded five goals at home in twenty-two years. With 36 goals, Manchester City have scored more in the opening ten games than any team since Preston got 38 in the league’s inaugural season in 1888-89. There have now been nine Premier League hat-tricks this season, already more than in five previous Premier League seasons. This season, there has been a staggering 2.97 goals per game, the most since 1967/68 when it just so happens that Manchester CIty last won the league. What’s more, the four games involving Champions League teams this season so far have provided a staggering 29 goals. And so on……
Inevitably, this has ignited a debate about defending, or more to the point, the lack of it. Tony Evans claimed on the Times podcast this week that the art of defending was now dead. On Talksport, Danny Kelly said City would win the league by default as they were the only team with a half-decent defence.
Lee Dixon has argued that attacks are getting better and defences worst, but he touched on another possible factor too:
“I genuinely think players are a little bit nervous of making tackles now because there are so many yellow and red cards flying around. It has made the game more exciting from a chances or goals point of view – but I will be saddened if the art of defending is eradicated from the game. It certainly looks like it is going that way.
“There is no doubt that year on year there is a change in emphasis and a change in rules. They have stopped the tackle from behind and you would probably say quite rightly. But I still think there’s a place for good defending behind forwards.”
But have things really deteriorated that much? Are we really entering a new period of attacking play and high scores? Or have the rule changes of recent years, such as the ridiculous offside rule, always favoured attackers?