During the current season there has been an unprecedented number of goals in the games involving the top five teams (Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea). So far 72 goals have been scored in fixtures with these sides, with an average of 4.8 goals per game. In comparison in the fixtures involving the top five during the 05/06 season (with Liverpool replacing City) 36 goals were scored at an average of 1.8 goals per game. That is a huge jump to take place over a few seasons so there must be some explanation for this shift. Most English pundits have praised this occurrence and have used it as another factor to explain why the English game is better than its European counterparts. Few reasons have been proposed as to why this phenomenon is happening, until now...
1. Lack of Quality Defenders
His defending style can be compared to James T. Kirk who also “doesn’t believe in no win situations”, with Koscielny often getting caught out when trying to intercept passes that he shouldn’t be going for.
There is no doubt that the injury to Vidic has significantly weakened the United defence. Coinciding with a drastic loss of form for Rio Ferdinand has meant that United have looked shaky at the back all season. The fullback positions have also been a weak point for United with Patrice Evra being particularly inconsistent and regularly switching off during games.
City have the best central defender in the league in Vincent Kompany and unsurprisingly the best defensive record. However when Kompany has been absent his defensive partner Lescott does not look the same player. Both Savic and Toure are poor replacements for the Belgian and it is clear that he is the only world class defender in their squad.
While Dawson and King are both good defenders, Spurs weaknesses stem from their fullbacks, Assou Ekotto and Walker. Both players have cost their side goals at various points during the season and either tend to lose concentration or pick up bad positions when defending, as seen during the recent 3-1 loss to United.
Arsenal’s usual centre backs Koscienly and Vermaelen, are most comfortable when they press high up the pitch which means they can intercept passes and use their pace when any balls are played over the top of the defence. Koscienly in particular is lighting fast and can keep pace with most forwards in the Premier League. This attribute often hides the fact that he is regularly caught out of position. His defending style can be compared to James T. Kirk who also “doesn’t believe in no win situations”, with Koscielny often getting caught out when trying to intercept passes that he shouldn’t be going for.
Chelsea have been shaky at the back since the departure of Ricardo Carvalho and Terry has not looked the same player since his partnership with the Portuguese was broken up. The future for Chelsea doesn’t look bright with Cahill and Luiz as their replacements and worryingly Luiz looks far more comfortable when in possession of the ball than without it.
2. Managerial Changes
Over the past decade two of the best backlines in the Premier League were Chelsea under Mourinho and Liverpool under Benitez. These two managers built their reputations on being excellent defensive organisers wherever they have gone. Benitez won a La Liga title with a Valencia side that was watertight and conceded only 27 goals all season. Similarly Mourinho’s success with Porto and Inter Milan was in large part due to the brilliant defences of these sides.
These two managers arrived in England around the same period and both were able to apply their defensive philosophies on their teams, with success being achieved in the league for Chelsea and in the Champions League for Liverpool. Many of the games involving the top five around the time of Mourinho and Benitez were very tight, tactical games because of the style in which these two managers sent their teams out to play.
This season there is the very attack-minded Redknapp at Tottenham, until recently the equally attacking Villas Boas at Chelsea, Mancini at City who has placed an increased importance on scoring goals, and the ever-present Wenger and Ferguson who have never been considered as defensively-minded.
During the middle part of the last decade, when it came to the big games the attacking philosophies of Wenger/Ferguson seemed to have been superseded by the defensive philosophies of Benitez/Mourinho. Now that the two latter managers have left their clubs all the top managers are equally attack minded and this seems to have resulted in a number of high scoring games when their sides have met.
3. Lack of Defensive Midfielders
When Makelele was replaced by David Beckham at Real Madrid Zinedine Zidane famously remarked; "Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?"
During the 05/06 season four out of the top five clubs regularly used a defensive midfielder in their formations.
Gilberto Silva (Arsenal)
This position came to be crucial for the success of Chelsea at the time with the role being renamed after their defensive midfielder Makelele. The importance of the position should not be understated as it provides a team with a vital defensive screen and contributed to the balance of the sides that employed it. When Makelele was replaced by David Beckham at Real Madrid Zinedine Zidane famously remarked; "Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?" Recently many of the big sides are trying to emulate the possession play of Barcelona and are now using more creative passing midfielders in the centre of the pitch rather than destroyers.
In the current season the only natural defensive midfielder in the top five teams is Nigel de Jong and he has rarely featured for Man City. Yaya Toure is a box-to-box player and Gareth Barry doesn’t break the play up as effectively as Makelele did. United mainly use Giggs, Scholes or Carrick in the middle, all of them known primarily for their passing rather than their defensive abilities. Spurs tend to play with Modric (passer) and Parker (box-to-box) in the midfield. Mikel Arteta, who has been a creative player his entire career usually plays as the deepest midfielder for Arsenal while Chelsea have never been able to replace the aforementioned Makelele.
All of the above reasons have contributed to high scores in the big games this season. While this has made for some exciting football matches and does make the Premier League more attractive it has also resulted in the English team's poor performance in Europe this year.
Read more from John Paul O'Donovan at his blog The True Ball
Click here for more stories in
Click here to follow
Click here to follow