When did English teams forget how to defend?


Seriously, it’s the question most people must be asking during this topsy-turvy English football season, league and cup – what’s happened to defending? On Tuesday and Wednesday night of this week there has been a full League Cup programme – two of those games produced 21 goals between them. 21! Of a casual weekend in the Premier League during years passed, any viewer would be delighted if a programme consisting of seven or eight games yielded 20+ plus goals amongst them. To reach this figure after only two games is sheer insanity.

I’m referring of course to the Reading-Arsenal fixture on Tuesday in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup which finished 7-5 in Arsenal’s favour and the Chelsea-Man Utd fixture the following evening which racked up nine goals in a 5-4 victory for the Stamford Bridge side. The game at the Madejski was utter lunacy – a superb display by the home team in the first half had them dreaming of the last eight with Brian McDermott’s men quickly racing into a 4-0 lead. Not to be undone, the Gunners pushed, probed and took advantage of Reading’s complacency in the second half, storming back to level it at 4-4 with seconds remaining. Extra time yielded four more goals but Arsenal’s extra quality told at the end of the evening – 7-5 and barely time for people in Berkshire to catch their breath. The following night down at the Bridge saw a repeat of Sunday’s Premier League fixture in which Fergie’s men ran out 3-2 winners. Wednesday’s game was only dissimilar to the Madejski affair in that the pendulum swung to-and-fro throughout – defensive mistakes costing United dearly in the end with Di Matteo’s men exacting revenge for Sunday’s reversal in an equally mad-cap 5-4 scoreline.

Sure, an absolutely bonkers couple of games but it’s not just been limited to the League Cup – the Premier League has been awash with goals this season and whilst it must be absolutely hair-tearing for all managers concerned, it is in equal measure stellar entertainment for all watching at home or at the ground. Take Man City for instance – last season’s Champions – hot on the heels of early pace-setters Chelsea but yet to hit top gear and only two clean sheets attained so far from nine games. They shipped two to Southampton in their opener and two the following week to Liverpool. Their neighbours and deadly rivals United have matched them in terms of results and points but have been faring no better on the defensive front – shipping two or more goals on no more than four occasions thus far, with only two clean sheets on the board. They’ve conceded 13 and we’ve barely entered November. In the 2007-08 campaign they saw their own net bulge only 22 times – in over four times the amount of games we’ve had in this season! Arsenal have had the most disciplined defence in the league with a miserly six conceded yet in one League Cup match they shipped five! Absolute madness – the Steve Bould effect wiped out in one fell swoop.

Now, on the continent it seems our men are getting found out – City are bottom of their Champions League group and as good as out, United are atop theirs but are conceding (two conceded against Braga last week at home) and Chelsea and Arsenal both suffered defeats against (with all respect) lesser opposition themselves. Defensive discipline, long since the cornerstone for great European sides of yore – Milan, Barcelona, Juventus – has been replaced with all-out attacking intent. The old you-score-two-we’ll-score-three tactic (once perfected by Kevin Keegan at Newcastle Utd) is seemingly being adopted both at home and across the seas by our elite clubs. If it continues, then surely we’ll have some difficulty in providing a real, sustainable challenge for European silverware. This free-flowing style that seems to be very current is both exciting to watch and very easy on the eye but at the same time, it proves that, in terms of discipline and shape, the likes of Chelsea and Man Utd are slightly short of what’s required to win the Champions League.

Hey, I may be wrong – Fergie’s men should go through and Arsenal and Chelsea, barring any hiccups, should join them. Additionally, Di Matteo’s men are the holders and will not give up their crown that easily. But honestly, can we start to see a bit of cohesion at the back please? Hansen will be tearing his hair out! In the past, 7-5 and 5-4 scorelines were surely a thing of madness – now it seems perfectly normal! Football, eh…

Introducing the neat little app that’ll pay you to view content tailored to your interests: are seeking new writers to join the team! If you’re passionate about football, drop us a line at “” to learn more.

Share this article