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Is Premier League defending getting worse?

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 23:58 UK time, Sunday, 30 October 2011

After his side conceded six goals against Manchester City last weekend, it was perhaps not surprising that Sir Alex Ferguson's priority on Saturday for Manchester United was defence.

United sacrificed some of their attacking instincts to gain a defender's favourite result of 1-0 against Everton at Goodison Park - and took their first steps to reducing the alarming number of chances they have granted this season.

If only the same could be said of Chelsea, who let five in against Arsenal in an eight-goal thriller at Stamford Bridge.

It was the latest in a bizarre run of results that has seen the Premier League's top teams toss away their usual cautiousness against each other and serve up a feast of goals.

Alongside the last two weekend's stand out results, Manchester City's 5-1 thrashing of Tottenham and Manchester United's 8-2 demolition of Arsenal have added to a notable quartet of results.

That is in keeping with a season which has seen a rise in the number of goals scored and a goals-per-game ratio of 2.97 - the highest since the 1967/68 season.


After 98 games more goals have been scored that at the same point last season

So why is that? In short, according to Match of the Day 2 pundit Lee Dixon, the Premier League's attacking is getting better and the defending is getting worse.

The former Arsenal defender believes inexperience contributed to the Gunners' defeat at Old Trafford, while City's huge win there was helped by the sending off of United defender Jonny Evans.

But he does admit that, while teams have been more adventurous this season, defenders are being hindered by growing rule changes which have given their opponents an advantage.

Dixon said: "Throughout the league there has been an emphasis on attack. We have seen sides like Swansea and Norwich have a go at teams but, overall, the one thing that stands out for me is the quality of the defending. It seems like it is at an all-time low.

"If you look at all the top teams, they have all had problems defensively. Chelsea can't seem to find someone to play alongside John Terry and he has been having a bad time himself. United's backline has been unsettled, with Nemanja Vidic having been injured, while Rio Ferdinand has had troubles.

"In my experience of defending, the more you play together and the less often the back-four changes, the better. When we played at Arsenal, virtually none of us really got any major injuries. If one of us did it was quite simple to get someone in to cover as long as they knew what they were doing.

"United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all had issues at centre-back and, if you mix that with teams being more adventurous, you have got a cocktail there for explosive games.


This season has already been highlighted by the number of red and yellow cards which have been shown

"Also, 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.

"Certainly the tackle from the side has been outlawed in as much as winning the ball is not enough. It's deemed now that you have to win the ball in a safe manner and not be a danger to the opposition. We don't want to see broken legs and we want to rule out the over-the-top tackle - but I certainly think there is very little left in a defender's armoury.

"It's probably why you are seeing more shirt-pulling now, because there are only certain ways that you can stop a forward advancing towards your goal. Players are getting a bit tighter. You could give a player a little bit of space knowing that if he tries to take you on down the side you could get a tackle in. Nowadays, the tackle is very much on a knife-edge when you go in for one because, if you slightly mis-time it, you get a yellow card or sometimes a red.

"Defenders are staying on their feet more but that will lead to a completely different type of game, a more flowing game. That's fine. People will say, 'Dixon is talking about ruining the game - stifling it', but it's not about that.

"As a defender, surely you should be allowed to be in a position where you take the ball off the opposition as fairly as possible? These days it seems to be heavily weighted in the forwards' favour - and that's probably why you are getting these open and free-flowing games.

"Maybe most people want more of it as far as the goals are concerned but we have to be very careful that we don't turn it into a non-contact sport."

Dixon accepts the quality of forwards in the Premier League has risen as the competitions' riches have allowed teams to attract the world's best.

And, although there are examples of teams like Newcastle, who have made significant improvements, he still sees bad examples of defending every weekend.

"From the matches I see on a Saturday and Sunday, there doesn't seem to be an emphasis on organisation," he adds. "I'm sure teams work on it but it is quite easy to pick holes in things and see mistakes.

"There often seems to be something jumping off the screen. Was it like that 10 years ago? I don't think the mistakes were as prominent as they are now."

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Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 2.

    Rotation of defenders always ensures that the club who is rotating them will never have as good a defence as they could if they didn't rotate.

    Why don't they stop rotating the defenders then? You may ask.

    The answer is as simple as it is startling.

    It is because of the transfer deadlines.

    These deadlines give more power to already extremely powerful players and in turn decrease the standard of football, that is to say, the potential improvements every team could have if this restriction wasn't there.

    Let us use a team like Man City as an example. If they didn't rotate their defenders they would develop an understanding which can only come with playing week in and week out with the same back four.

    But if they do this then the other quality defenders at the club will be very unhappy because they know they are good enough to play week in and week out themselves. This causes an unhappy dressing room, unrest and turmoil.

    The only other way is to have inferior 'squad' players as cover but inevitably they are squad players for a reason and could cost your team valuable points and ultimately the title. Lets face it, a top notch defender will not be happy sitting on the bench for a full season and it can happen.

    Before transfer deadlines came about managers would say you can't win a title rotating players. They were right of course because a team playing with each other week after week will always perform better than players who are consistently rotated, if both have equal quality that is.

    The problem is injuries. In the past if a player suffered a serious injury the club would go and buy a new player of the same quality as the injured one so that they could continue with their title challenge.

    Because of the transfer deadline they can no longer do this and so must cover their bases, so to speak, by having quality cover for every position.

    This has an impact on football. It is scary how good some of our teams could be if they played with a settled first eleven but we will never know because of the ridiculous thing that is a transfer deadline.

    Not to mention a lot of the rotated players would be at other clubs if there was no deadline which would have the knock on effect of no need for rotation. It would make it very interesting that is for sure.

    It would certainly increase the likelihood of a gifted manager at a smaller club challenging the not so gifted manager at a big club with lots of money for the title because those teams with big squads who rotate will always lose the title to an equally gifted team who play together week in and week out so any manager worth his salt would reduce his squad size if their was no transfer deadline.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Good article, but I think City will be thrashed at some point this season... probably by Chelsea to complete the cycle!!

    Also, why do you guys feel the need to advertise your websites on here? I don't particularly want to read your blog, and I don't think anyone does.

  • Comment number 5.

    It seems pretty obvious that along with all the things Lee Dixon speaks of, the main thing that has changed the game in the last few seasons in particular is the offside laws. I'm all for players not interfering with play not being flagged offside, and for perfectly good goals to not be chalked off just because some other player was coming back from an offside position. But how the hell are you supposed to defend against a situation where attackers all around you - including behind you - can end up sticking the ball in the net? It's very very difficult to pick up every player when second and third phase offside rules are in play, and with the kick and rush mentality of the English league this is especially hard. Seems to me that the ploy of overloading defenders is too easy thanks to the offside laws, and that defenders become confused as to which runner to go with and which spaces they should fill. You can show a man where you thought was the safest only to find he's suddenly got a pass on to a bloke who was ambling back 'inactively' a second or two earlier and the pair of them are running rings round you etc. I'd be interested to know how many offsides there were at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but I would think it was very few.

  • Comment number 6.

    My suspicion is that defences are not getting worse than they have been, its just that everything is geared in favour of the attacking players in the modern game. This season I have seen many instances where defenders have been cautioned for winning the ball in a tackle. It must be in the back of their minds that they must just stand off. This gives the attackers more space and its no coincidence that more goals ensue.

    The 'art' of defending is sadly being lost in the game and the competitive edge is going with it in lots of ways. A genuine great player like Franco Baresi would struggle in today's game as he would be sent off on a regular basis for making strong tackles and harassing the forwards he was marking.

    A balance needs to be struck between protecting the attackers but actually allowing the defenders to do their jobs without fear of a red card. Any referee, fan or player can tell the difference between a bad tackle and a strong tackle. The lines have been blurred by FIFA and UEFA though which leads to ridiculous cards and free-kicks.

    There is nothing finer than seeing a perfectly timed interception or tackle. It happens far less than it ever did as players are so aware that mistiming anything is a huge risk in the modern game. Defenders should be given more scope to do their jobs without such restraints.

    The strict rules on tackling are meant to prevent the horror tackles that snap legs. Ironically, as with many FIFA and UEFA ideas, the amount of 'jump' tackles seems to have increased. Players get wound up by constantly being penalised for minor infringements and lose their cool. Give defenders the respect they deserve in a contact sport, that is the way forward.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm inclined to think that the sample, from which these conclusions seem to be being drawn, is far too small.

    Man U v Arsenal? Look at the Arsenal defenders that day. Had they even met each other before?

    Man U v Man City? Three goals in the last couple of minutes.

    Chelsea v Arsenal? Both teams trying to attack at different times and errors abound.

    I think these are almost freak results, each with their own peculiar explanation.

    I think there are individual errors and yes, some back to basics coaching would help, but other circumstances (a change of manager, a change of personnel, a sending off) are more contributory overall.

  • Comment number 8.

    Part of the reason also is the referees' weakness in not punishing diving. Every tackle - many of which are perfectly fair - results in the player being tackled collapsing to the floor like a dying swan, rolling around in feigned agony for a minute or two. Then two minutes later they're up & playing just like before.
    It's also fair to say that ManU & Arsenal have problems with injuries in defence & their back-ups lack experience. I guess if Vidic & Vermaelen keep fit, they'll be tighter - ManU a lot more, Arsenal a bit more.

  • Comment number 9.

    The other point that hasn't been touched on is that of gamesmanship; there needs to be some credit given to the match officials (and their directives) aimed at lessening the influence of the cheats, or to be more precise, the influence of - and easy option of - the professional foul. The big problem with that is the interpretation of some incidents as denying a goal-scoring opportunity and of others as not having done so obviously. Surely if you prevent a breakaway where your side is hopelessly outnumbered by taking one for the team that's just as cynical as pulling a man back when he's clean through a la Evans on Balotelli? Yet the punishment is still far less exaggerated and the influence on the game less pronounced.

  • Comment number 10.

    As other have noted, the recent rule changes in football have all favoured the attackers and quite rightly too. So defending is not getting worse, just more difficult. In times, teams will adjust and will get better at defending under the new rules.

  • Comment number 11.

    9 er, I mean to say that this is another reason why defenders are having a harder time than they used to, for example when Lee Dixon was operating!

  • Comment number 12.

    If you look at your own stats you would see that the number of shots per game is virtually identical to last season. What has changed is the shooting accuracy. Nothing to do with defenders winning or not winning the ball

  • Comment number 13.

    #10 Steve Jones

    Might that just end up with deeper defending? It reminds me of Formula 1 where they try to contrive the rules and the way to deal with them is just to engineer your way around them in the most boring way possible. Football, as with life, could probably benefit with fewer rules leaving a blanker canvass.

  • Comment number 14.

    Mr Trawlerman made a good point about the unexpected backpass. This is problem brought about by the notion that all the team can play creative football. However, we all understand that some defenders can't attack and some attackers can't defend. Malouda's backpass to JT was over-hit and risky - Malouda should have realised the risk and not made the pass. BUT he made the pass and JT knew that he wouldn't win a foot race with van Persie and I got the impression that JT "accidentally" fell over so that his part in the goal wouldn't look so bad. Much as I love Chelsea and JT, that's how I saw it - after the goal was scored, JT looked sheepishly at the ground and his teammates. (Incidentally, as a Chelsea fan, I believe that Malouda is well past his sell-by date.)

    Barca500 raises the issue of "jump tackles" that have been seen over the last few years in the Prem. This is just a result of the game being faster than ever - a tackler can not get to the ball quick enough if he uses the conventional tackling style of standing on one leg and tackling with the other and so lifts both feet off the ground to get to the ball quicker. As an ex-defender (only Sunday League), I deplore the fact that these tackles have not been eradicated by FIFA/UEFA as they have the tackle from behind. When the game is slower (Sunday League) and the ref says "that tackle was a bit late", all you can say is "Well, ref, I got here as fast as I could!"

  • Comment number 15.

    #14 Rob Varney

    I got the impression that JT "accidentally" fell over
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    I simply don't believe that is in his character. I believe he would have taken the player, the ball, the whatever if he could.

    Anyway, the outcome and atmosphere on Saturday had shades of Chelsea v Man City 18 months ago. JT had been in the papers all week then as well!

  • Comment number 16.

    A good blog.

    I do believe that it illustrates just how much the game has changed over the years. How the game is refereed and how the players have reacted to the referee's interpretations on the game.

    I do not believe as much importance is given to the art of defending as it once was. I look at the Beebs gossip col and all I seem to see is clubs being linked with attacking midfielders, wide men or strikers.

    I look at defenders today and they seem to go to ground very early, compared to a few years ago, this may explain the number of players being sent off for dangerous challenges.

    I believe Lee Dixon to be right, a defence has to operate as a unit and rotation is not going to be helpful in forming the tight unit.

  • Comment number 17.

    1. At 10:54 31st Oct 2011, The Tenth Beetle wrote:
    More teams seem to be willing to give it a go this season making for more entertaining matches. I reckon Man Utd for one will tighten up from now on though.

    The team with the most solid defence will win the league and thats why I don't think it will be Man city.

    -------------------------

    The same Man City that haven't conceded many goals and are scoring for fun at the other end...did you think that through or did you just decide City aren't going to win it because u don't want them to?

  • Comment number 18.

    #1 - Tenth Beetle

    Hello - is there anybody there? City have conceded just SIX goals in ten games!
    Please do some homework before giving us your opinion: you might want to look at City's defensive record last year as well.
    Just for fun, take into account the extraordinary number of shots on goal that United have conceded, one of the worst records in the PL, I believe. They had that derby drubbing coming to them and were lucky that it wasn't double figures, frankly. Perhaps the spell has been broken but I doubt it, having seen them squeak through against Everton. Ask Stoke, Norwich, Liverpool, WBA, Basel, Benfica, Chelsea etc. how their strikers failed to net so many clear-cut chances against United - but no rational answer can explain United's consistent good fortune over the years.

  • Comment number 19.

    A tactical balance is essential in today's game, and no-one has achieved that apart from Barcelona. A lot of teams are trying to imitate Barca right now - from top clubs such as Man Utd, Roma and Chelsea, through to the Swanseas, Boltons and Wigans. But they are all struggling to perfect it because of the failure of certain individuals to understand their roles.

    Take Sergio Busquets, for example. He plays a pivotal, understated role in Barca's set-up. He may not be flash, fast or skilful but his understanding of both phases of play (defence & attack) is unmatched. When Barca have the ball he is almost always an option for Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas. But on the flipside, he never strays too far forward too join the attack, thus enabling him to pop back in defence when Barca are under pressure (admittedly, not a regular occurrence).

    Compare him to Alex Song, Anderson and a whole host of similar players, and count the number of times they are caught out of position compared to Busquets.

    Playing the "Barca Way" needs a Busquets-type player - essentially a Makelele with better technique - but not every club has one.

  • Comment number 20.

    They're all trying to play like Barcelona but their work rate off the ball is tremendous unlike Chelsea in particular. They also don't give the ball away unlike Chelsea and United in particular. And they're not a team with huge egos unlike Chelsea, United and City in particular.

    Barcelona can defend as well if they have to. The point is they're all playing like kids trying to emulate their heroes but there's more to Barcelona's game that sublime skill.

    I don't think it's a coincidence either that defenders such as Ferdinand, Carragher and Terry are coming to the end of their careers. Whatever people say about Terry he has been a solid defender. Jones could be good but he's a big head at the moment.

  • Comment number 21.

    "15.At 16:15 31st Oct 2011, MrBlueBurns wrote:
    #14 Rob Varney

    I got the impression that JT "accidentally" fell over
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    I simply don't believe that is in his character. I believe he would have taken the player, the ball, the whatever if he could."

    The "whatever" being the turf in this case.

  • Comment number 22.

    At 10:54 31st Oct 2011, The Tenth Beetle wrote:
    More teams seem to be willing to give it a go this season making for more entertaining matches. I reckon Man Utd for one will tighten up from now on though.

    The team with the most solid defence will win the league and thats why I don't think it will be Man city.

    Why not Man City based on actual facts rather than opinion? They have conceded fewest goals second to Newcastle who have played one game less?

  • Comment number 23.

    surely the rules are unfair to the defenders, imagine when a forward simulates a foul in the box all he gets is a yellow card. Yet for defenders get most of the time red cards even for simulated fouls.

    I think the rules of the game should be revised and should treat all players alike. If a forward simulates a foul, he should get a red card and just as defenders get red card when he fouls in the 18.

    That way the problem will be addressed fairly.

  • Comment number 24.

    I think there is an element of ex-pros being biased towards the sort of style of football that they played in. You constantly get Dixon and Gary Neville saying that defending standards have dropped but the pace of the game and technical skill of players has gone up several notches since they were at their peak and playing regularly.

    It's a bit like the older generation constantly moaning about those pesky kids.

    I for one am in favour of the move towards attacking play and I think the balance is about right at the moment. That is noting that we don't want to reach the level in South America where breathing on an attacker can bring a foul, or perhaps the sticter interpretations that we see in Europed.

    The reality is that football is an international game and defenders in England have a better deal here than anywhere else in Europe. This is why frustrations arise in the European cometitions where referees are more likely to blow the whistle.

  • Comment number 25.

    I feel as though there is an increasingly greater emphasis on offensive players as the product (which football is becoming) is required to offer more excitement and value-for-money as consumers (or supporters) become more demanding.

    The cynicism dealt out to the Arsenal sides that achieved success based on sound defensive qualities and most recently, the criticism Mancini's Manchester City got last season is testament to the fact that consumers are becoming more demanding and that that kind of approach is becoming less appreciated.

    I'm not sure whether apparent poor defending is a result of this increase in attacking emphasis or vice versa. Defenders are becoming increasingly reliant on offering an offensive option almost to the point where good defensive qualities are almost seen as a secondary attribute if the player can offer something extra going forward as per players such as Dani Alves and Patrice Evra to name two. Full-backs are now more likely to be relied upon to provide additional width and attacking options which will naturally afford space and opportunity to opposition forwards.

    I am enjoying the glut of goals in these high profile games and hope the cavalier approach continues. By doing this it gives me hope that the sides with championship aspirations will continue to offer goalscoring opportunities to all sides which may, just hopefully, offer us, the consumer, a more exciting and open title chase this season.

    http://thethoughtsofphil.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 26.

    Isn't this just the standard aping of the best teams in the planet that we usually see, Barcelona and Spain are clearly the best and everyone else is trying to copy them. After all we had the same rules but still had plenty of defensively minded teams after the 2006 world cup with Champions league winners like AC Milan, ManU (with quite a defensive midfield of Scholes, Fletcher and Carrick mainly) and Inter all relying on very good defenses.

    Now that Barca and Spain are preeminent the moves to copy them seems to run right the way through the league systems with once tough teams like Bolton and Blackburn attempting more free-flowing passing styles of play and only Stoke left in the prem. of the really tough teams to beat. Perhaps there is good reason for this as Birmingham were good defensively but couldn't rack up the points to stay up while the teams that get promoted from the Championship now all seem to come exclusively from the "like to play the ball camp".

    Even the most recent master of the defensive style team, Mourinho has been forced to abandon the sort of tactics that won him the CL with two different teams in order to provide more attractive football at Real to compete with Barca. In the past Real managers like Capello were willing to be pragmatic to win their Championship but now the mood is such that even Mourinho knows he must go attacking (in fairness even back in the day Capello was fired for not entertaining).

    The question is who will have the guts to bring the more defensive game back into style, risking a public shelacking should he attempt it and still not win (see the reaction to Holland in the World cup final). Personally if they can get through the group stages I wouldn't be surprised to see Mancini revert City to their tough defensive midfield of Toure, Barry and De Jong and if their successful with it who knows perhaps the tide will turn.

  • Comment number 27.

    #5 The Trawler

    You make a very good point here. Certain aspects offside rule seems to be getting more and more ambigious season after season and interpretated differently by different officials.
    For example RVP's 1st goal at the weekend is a case of this. As Gervinho was played through, RVP was clearly offside and but not interfering and then got himself back onside to recieve the square ball and score unopposed. The issue here is that there was no way any chelsea player could get back to make a challenge and it is strikers like RVP who are using the ambigiouty in the offside rule to their advantage, I also remember Ruud Van Nistelrooy doing the same thing effectively. Defenders would have the option of dropping deeper to mark the inactive offside player but that would be inviting more pressure so not neccesarily the best thing to do!

  • Comment number 28.

    @2:

    "It would certainly increase the likelihood of a gifted manager at a smaller club challenging the not so gifted manager at a big club with lots of money for the title because those teams with big squads who rotate will always lose the title to an equally gifted team who play together week in and week out so any manager worth his salt would reduce his squad size if their was no transfer deadline."

    Brilliant! You've found a mathematical way to determine who will win the title, without having to go through all the hassle and bother of playing all those games to see who actually wins...So what do we do? Multiple the Castrol rating by the minutes through nine games, divide by the merit of the idea, whoops, can't divide by zero...

    I've only found one sure fire statistic that works in predicting any outcome related to football. If a team has less than seven names on the team sheet...other than that, you pretty much have to play the game to know what happens. And a season, in the EPL, where 20 teams play 38 games, I'm sorry, there is no formula for that, no matter what the pundits claim on Saturday, or you claim on this blog...

  • Comment number 29.

    Mourinho has not changed his spots IMO, he is merely utilising his players in a manner befitting their qualities - as any good coach would do.

    Give him an Italian side, where the emphasis is on organisation, patience and swift counters and you'll see his trademark approach. Indeed, Inter's semi-final success over Barca 2 years back was Mourinho's managerial style in microcosm. And we were all singing his praises back then.

  • Comment number 30.

    #27 Jaap_Stam_Is_Bigger_Than_Your_Ground

    But that's not ambiguity is it? Afterall, you've explained the rule yourself for a start!

    It is knowledge of the rules that is required. Echoing #24 Sir Harry Whitesnapp, look at the people that are acting as the so called experts between the match and the watching public. They seem to love dressing incidents up laced with their own ignorance. Rather than an ex-player (celebrated and experienced or not) perhaps they should have a qualified ref in the studio to explain the situation.

    Problem with that is, commentators, presenters and alike love dressing things up as 'controversial' when they are nothing of the sort.

    'Rule A applied in situation X. Move on.' That's what it should be, Shirley?

  • Comment number 31.

    Some great comments on this one. I agree fully with the comment about diving. It's made things more difficult, and there are some very good actors in the Premier League, more than there have ever been. No names mentioned, but you know who they are.
    I also agree with the comments on offside. As a referee, I find that it's becoming more difficult to officiate games to the full extent of the laws of the game. As an example, to follow the rules, almost every corner kick would result in a penalty or a free kick to the defending side due to the amount of holding. And if every tug and shirt pull was called, pundits would, rightly, be saying referees are ruining the game by calling everything. It's a fine line, and when the diving is added to the equation, it's very tough.
    And, with squad rotation, and injuries, the back four of most sides is rarely consistent. In the "good old days" they could print the program line-ups a month in advance.
    Also, the offside rule interpretation has made it extremely difficult for defenders. At least every other game I receive a complaint from a defender who is pulled to mark someone in an offside position who does not receive the ball. They say that by pulling the defender, it's interfering, and it's hard to argue. Officially, they should leave the offside player alone, but they could then go on to have an important role in the play if they subsequently become onside, therefore having gained an advantage from being offside initially. It gives the defenders enormous headaches, and leaves the officials vulnerable, too.
    So, when you add better strikers to a faster game, with looser law application in some areas and stricter application in others, the end result is more goalscoring opportunities and more goals. For the neutral, it's great entertainment. For the supporter of a team that has just been on the end of a drubbing, it's not but, this season, the shoe - or boot - has rapidly switched from foot to foot. In all likelihood, every team in the league this year will be the 'drubber' and the 'drubbee' at some point. Most casual observers - and those of us who support lower league teams - would sooner see a televised 5-3 than a 0-0.
    Excellent defending and thrilling low-scoring games satisfy purists. While there's a lot to be said for that, we know which scoreline puts bottoms on seats and sells broadcasting contracts.

  • Comment number 32.

    whatever the reason i dont care, its making football better to watch and even funnier when you see the likes of Terry fall on his face! that was priceless!

    i dont beleive that defending is getting worse, as someone previously stated its just a case of a few strange results.

    Next week we will have a few 0-0 and it will read 'defenders getting better and strikers getting worse'

  • Comment number 33.

    2.
    At 11:45 31st Oct 2011, chrissyy2007 wrote:

    Excellent synopsis, I agree with every word!!!

  • Comment number 34.

    Defending has detiorated over recent years. Attention is always paid to the scorers of goals -- e.g. I've closely watched the tactics of Chelsea. Torro is lucky if he gets a half-decent pass from his team-mates. Lampard passes to the wings, then vacates the midfield as he moves into a possible goal scoring position. This removes the link between midfield & defence, making life difficult for Terry & Co. Sturridge is fast & talented but in his quest for goals & glory, he fails to see other forwards in goal-scoring positions. Man Utd, Spurs & Arsenal do work as a team and are well balanced in attack, midfield & defence, so will lead the board at the end of the season.

  • Comment number 35.

    jon

    did you forget Man City?

    who's this Torro fella too? was this pre-op?

  • Comment number 36.

    #34 jon

    Perhaps you should have watched a bit closer on Saturday then! Some of Lampard's first time balls from his own half, to people, Torres included, who were then bearing down on goal, were sublime! He was nowhere near getting the scraps on them.

    I believe, at this stage, that there is nothing to suggest this was anything other than a freak result. Or are you telling me that 8 goals is now more likely in the return fixture at the Emirates later in the season?

  • Comment number 37.

    26 I'd have to take some issue with your appraisal of United in Europe over the last few seasons, where they've been involved in a good number of highly entertaining encounters - 4-2 in Kiev, 0-3 in Milan, 3-2 in Milan (and the 3-2 at home as well), 7-1 v Roma, 3-1 at Arsenal, 4-0 at home to Milan and so on. A number of the close scorelines have also been top quality football matches, like the 2-1 win v Chelsea, the 1-0 v Arsenal, 2-0 at Roma, 1-0 at home to Barcelona and so on. All 3 of the finals United have been involved in have been cracking games for one reason or another, and there was the stunning 3-2 game v Bayern in between as well. Hardly boring, defensive tedium is it?


    30 ambiguous in the sense that the rules make it harder for the defenders to cover all runners, and in the sense that interpretation can add to the confusion where it isn't clear at any given moment which run to track. The old defensive line can still be used but is very much harder to execute, basically, which obviously leads to more mistakes, and ultimately more goals.

  • Comment number 38.

    #37 TheTrawler

    But I maintain, and maybe I'm being a bit pedantic, that confusion for a defender does NOT mean that the rules are ambiguous does it?

  • Comment number 39.

    "It's also fair to say that ManU & Arsenal have problems with injuries in defence & their back-ups lack experience. I guess if Vidic & Vermaelen keep fit, they'll be tighter - ManU a lot more, Arsenal a bit more."

    Arsenal a bit more? If we have our first team back four playing week in week out, we would not be shipping a lot of goals. We would improve massively.

  • Comment number 40.

    Torres is often referred to as El Torro in Scotland. Chelsea have poor links between midfield & defence and they don't have a fully functional forward line - however they are pretty good to watch. Man City might well top the table at the end of the season, but teamwork from the likes of Spurs/Arsenal/Man U will prevail I believe. Defence involves all team players, not just the back line.

  • Comment number 41.

    37 I'd certainly agree that United recently, especially with their reversion to 442 have been far more open. In the past though they may have had some great scorelines like against Roma (though that was in the 07/08 season when they were still playing 442) but the emphasis certainly in the 08/09 and 09/10 was definately on a solid, defensive midfield three and on Rooney/Tevez/Ronaldo to do the attacking. Is it not fair to say that United now with only Fletcher and Anderson in central midfield say and Young, Nani, Rooney and Hernandez all on the pitch have a more attacking set up (even if the attacking players aren't as good)?

  • Comment number 42.

    Man U - without Vidic look weak in defence. Ferdinand is only useful when he plays with Vidic because this is a pairing which has been used for ages. Phil Jones will get better and eventually be as good as Vidic. Jonny Evans on the other hand has been shambolic.

    Chelsea- A defence which is slow and lumbering. Terry is only useful as a defender due to his leadership and experience. Chelsea must find a suitable partner... not the donkey that tries to play as a striker leaving the defence extremely exposed.

    Man City- Their defence is their only weakness and IMO is the reason United will win the title. Lescott is error ridden and just generally average. Company has his moments where he just looses his cool, for example when he let nani clear through on goal in the community shield. He did it again this weekend against wolves when he got sent off.

    Arsenal - where to begin! Squillaci is simply no good at all, Jenkison looks way out of his league, Djorou, who is supposed to be good, simply isn't, as he was when switzerland played England and if koscielny is the best Arsenal can do then they are in trouble, since vermalaen is forever injured. Although due to their current good form I'm backing them to beat city at the ethihad in the carling cup, if vermalen plays

    Liverpool - average, as is their team in general, for a top 6 side.

    Totenham - their defence is poor but because of Scott Parker it doesn't seem to matter - he gives the defence fantastic cover, and the full backs are playing well too.

  • Comment number 43.

    On the RVP offside thing, I really don't get the confusion, even leaving aside the fact that Cole is clearly playing him on from the beginning of the move.
    Even were RVP offside at this point it seems reasonably fair that should Gervinho with the ball overtake him he can be onside again. It's not unfair on the defenders as they in fact have less of a distance to cover then Gervinho who starts in front of them and has to travel further in order to get past RVP not just catch up to him.

  • Comment number 44.

    Hmm... The evidence above doesn't really back up Dixon's perspective at all. The number of shots per game is the same as it was last year, which would indicate that strikers aren't necessarily getting more chances. Instead, it appears their accuracy is just much better. So defenders are doing just as good (or bad!) a job as last season, but more of their mistakes are being punished by a goal.

    Unless I'm missing something.

  • Comment number 45.

    42.At 17:38 31st Oct 2011, Solomon wrote:

    Tottenham - their defence is poor but because of Scott Parker it doesn't seem to matter - he gives the defence fantastic cover, and the full backs are playing well too.
    ------------------------

    Um, Ledley King is better than any defender at your club, whoever that might be. When he is on the pitch he is top class, and happily he seems (touch wood) to be over the worst of his injury troubles. Kaboul is twice the player he was when we shipped him off to Pompey a few years ago, Walker has improved to the point of deserving a place in the first team for England, and Assou-Ekotto....well, he is good at passing the ball to Gareth Bale, and has actually improved year on year while he's been in the side.

    Add to this the fact Michael Dawson is out long term, Gallas has just come back to fitness, and we have Parker and/or Sandro to screen the defence, and its pretty solid.

    People seem to conveniently forget that during the games against the Manchester teams, Spurs were lacking 4 vital players that have since come into the side and sparked the current run.

  • Comment number 46.

    38 we're talking about a lack of certainty caused by both the effect and the interpretation of the rule changes. the confusion defenders can suffer are often as a result of this growing ambiguity if you like. english is a simple language made difficult by the dogma of those who lack the imagination to use it expressively.

  • Comment number 47.

    Yes the defending in the Premier League certainly has declined in standard. This is obvious. There is some truly woeful defending week in week out from almost every team in the league! The defenders in England are not very good technically, and are larger, stronger but tend to be more clumsy. This had allowed the incredible amount of attacking talent bought into the Premier League... to flourish and score a vast amount of goals. Simple.

    In Serie A you cannot turn up to one of the bottom teams with your second string and expect to turn over the opposition with 3,4 goals. The quality of the defending in Italy is far superior overall than that of La Liga or the Premier League. I know this will be challenged by "E.g Inter conceded 5 at home to Schalke last year" but those who saw the game know Schalke simply took their chances, Inter did not. This has lead to the classic "boring Serie A" stereotype which I think derives from the lesser teams having a more competent defense, thus producing on the cover low scoring "boring" games,

    Did anyone see Juventus vs Inter on Saturday night?

  • Comment number 48.

    @45 Since when was Kaboul good? He has been at fault for at least 35% of the goals you've conceded, he is slow, and a lazy marker - although his marking is improving. He also occasionally makes rather rash challenges - but that is another thing he is improving on. He is good at clearing the ball, but he just really isn't that good tbh.

    And btw I'm a man u fan, and vidic is much better than ledley king. And I did say that the full backs are playing well ... so yes in case you hadn't noticed that DOES include assou-ekotto and kyle walker.

    It's the center-halfs that are the problem, Dawson has always been suspect and we haven't seen enough of Ledley King to know that he is decent after prolonged injury.

  • Comment number 49.

    defending is not getting worse, you must understand primer leauge is played at a pace sometime defenders will get caught its bound to happen, but i think the standard has drop and quality has dropped massively, who rememers nugent playing for england, england press and so called expert say "pick players who are on form" no compared to spain where they hardly change thier line-up, because when the team plays together they become more soild as a unit and learn to play a way they whole team knows, at the next world cup whos going to be our midfielders? our strikers? english youth system has failed every month i hear some rising young star from brazil spain aregntina and so on and on, what about england the best player is rooney by far technically gifted, he would get into any team.

    I fear the primer leauge is killing england team

  • Comment number 50.

    41 The 7-1 game was 06/07 and it was pretty much the same formation Ferguson has used and still uses to be honest. It certainly was not a 4-4-2 in any rigid sense, with Giggs roaming through midfield and Smith dropping in. United went to Ronaldo too often maybe in 08/09 but by 09/10 both he and Tevez (who rarely played in Europe for the Reds anyway) were gone and the focus fell more on Rooney, who hit 5 of united's 12 goals in the group stages. Since Chich broke through at the turn of this year Ferguson has accommodated the same type of system by trying use Rooney as the transition between defence and attack, with varied success. I wouldn't imagine we'll see Nani and Young too often in the same team as the tournament hots up (assuming United progress) if he also includes 2 strikers, even if one of them is Rooney in a - imo flawed - version of a 10.

  • Comment number 51.

    What is going on with the yellow card and red card stats - you seem to have arbitrarily selected 6 non-consecutive years of stats to paint a picture supporting a comment that the number of cards has gone up...

    I know 69% of statistics are made up - but that is just ridiculous, or is there some hidden logic to it that I'm not seeing...

  • Comment number 52.

    What is the percentage of caution/red cards to the back four compared to forwards and midfielders? Seems to me that the cards and making it very difficult for defenders to defend.

  • Comment number 53.

    The prevalent formation in the top sides is some form of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 with attacking full backs...when the full backs lose possession up the field they are left shorthanded at the back...you can end up shipping a hatful if you chase the game like United v City.

  • Comment number 54.

    Defending is not getting worse, but teams are beginning to realise that being adventurous can pay dividends. Not long ago a top team didn't have to defend well, because their opponent would usually be playing for a draw. This tactic usually saw the "lesser" team lose, because they made one or two mistakes. At present most teams seem willing to have a go, whoever they play against. If you play the top four, winning one match 4-3 and losing three 5-0 is much more preferable to losing them all 1-0 because of a moment's loss of concentration.

    This approach can also encourage a Man Utd or similar to press the self-destruct button. The players are so unused to being multiple goals down, they are out of their comfort zone and are likely to play more unpredictably.

  • Comment number 55.

    For me. a great defensive display can be as good as a great attacking display. The problem is I rarely see a great defensive display anymore.

    Great defence supplements midfield, after all it's not just about clearing the lines when it's done well. Good defending is the foundation for a good attack, sadly it's become a lost art.

    I have noticed all the references to Barca and how good they are defensively but in fact it's not the back four who are the defensive unit. The whole team, by keeping possession ensure the defence is not put under pressure. In any other side their two backs would be exposed.

  • Comment number 56.

    I agree to view that defenders do not get any help from the refs and long gone are those days when the tackles where examined before flashing cards. But its not just in the league. The recent Manchester United Champions League match, were Vidic saw a red for a rather normal challenge, gives a look into how the refs are getting more lavish in distributing marching orders and are falling prey to the play acting.

  • Comment number 57.

    I think this is an issue with world football not just the Prem. Since the end of the nineties defenders have become faster and bigger but have lost many of the qualities that made a Great defender. Anticipation, awareness, positional sense and composure have all made way for speed of recovery and bulk. Most of the defenders who go forward simply run with the ball well, but their distribution and all round skill is poor. I was brought up on Serie A in the early nineties and the defenders back then are a different breed to those nowadays the obvious names of Baresi, Maldini, Brehme, Kohler, Aldair were hardly super sonic and big but had great awareness. The last truly great defenders have now all retired and I can't see where the defenders have gone Italy, Germany and England have had traditions rich in defenders but it pains me to see the poor quality of defending in all these leagues and at international level.
    I think FIFA has ruined some of the defensive arts offside traps have become non existent, tackling is treated as a crime, shoulder to shoulder and any physical contact is penalised - does this mean that there is no point defending properly or you will get penalised?
    I remember a game back in the nineties Norwich vs Inter, where the legendary Beppe Bergomi marked C Sutton out of the game simply by using his positional awareness to stop Sytton getting any purchase on his headers, a rare skill that i'm afraid seems to have skipped a few generations.

  • Comment number 58.

    Are professional footballers becoming even more stupid? I would be interested in the latest research on their average reading age.

  • Comment number 59.

    @ 1

    ''The team with the most solid defence will win the league and thats why I don't think it will be Man city''.

    Who have let in only 8 goals in 10 games, and 4 of those were scored by Bolton & Fulham.
    Clearly you are a Utd fan, still hurting from last week, and hoping City will slip up big style. I hope you remain disappointed - last season when City were nowhere as potent an attacking force they kept 32 clean sheets in all competitions. Enough said.

  • Comment number 60.

    @42

    ''Man City- Their defence is their only weakness and IMO is the reason United will win the title. Lescott is error ridden and just generally average. Company has his moments where he just looses his cool, for example when he let nani clear through on goal in the community shield. He did it again this weekend against wolves when he got sent off''.

    Vincent Kompany got sent off as a result of Joe Hart's poor dealing with a long range shot. Joe parried it in the direction it arrived at him and not as he should have done away to his right. Vince was sent off for holding back Kevin Doyle.
    If City having conceded only 8 goals in 10 games are average name me a Premier side apart from Newcastle who are above average?

  • Comment number 61.

    These guys are getting paid upwards of half a million a year each so it's a bit comical that they can't get the basics right. Playing an offside trap is basics for a professional team, so it amazes me when you see Champions League sides so indisciplined that they get it hugely wrong multiple times in a game. It's about drilling. I remember playing a concert at the Barbican with Sir Colin Davies aged 18 and we went on to play and found that the backstage guys hadn't put enough seats and stands for the music. So me and the guy sitting next to me walked off, brought on two chairs and played the whole thing without the music without a problem. Because the whole organisation had built up to that evening for 2 years. We weren't professionals, we were like the Arsenal YTSs. But we knew every note of all the parts of that piece, because we'd rehearsed it at 3 courses over 12 months. I really don't see why top professionals can't practice like that too. It's called discipline.

    From what I can see of defending in football, when it's one on one, it's about two things: positioning yourself to make the attacker's mind up for him and waiting your moment to tackle. It's about awareness to know when you won't make it, when not to commit too soon and covering for your colleague if they are dragged one way or the other by an attacker off the ball. I'm sure you could connect defenders up with some slightly stretchy elastic so that they were pulled in the right direction to maintain shape if one person moved right, left, back or forward. It's not high-tech, but it'd instil spatial awareness if that needed to be done. You could add the midfield to it as well if you wanted. Assuming you were just practicing defending........

    What also seems ridiculous is that the penalty box at corners resembles American football with forwards and defenders parts of a scrimmage. It's a joke. Send 20 players off in one weekend to sort it out!

    One does wonder how many cultured defenders are currently managers in England. There's clearly a few old fashioned ones like McLeish and Bruce, but if you want to coach silky defending, you'd probably need a Maldini or a Baresi,a Desailly or an Hierro. Assuming they'd actually make good coaches.......shame Hansen's a couch potato, he's the best there's been the past 30 years in this country.

  • Comment number 62.

    'Defending' is not just about defenders. Its about not giving the ball away.

    Watch a Barcelona match if it hasn't sunk in yet.

  • Comment number 63.

    Be nice to see whether there are peaks and troughs of goalscoring during the season. My perception is that unsettled teams and less 'obvious' risk encourage a more open game at the start of the season that then tightens through the winter months before the headlong dash to the line.

  • Comment number 64.

    @1

    Then who are you advocating then? Newcastle?

    @21

    lmao - indeed JT clearly took a mouth full of grass in some kind of attempt to avoid looking like a statue as RVP outstripped him, but only succeeded in demonstrating what a complete waste of space that he is.

    This was apparent throughout the Chelsea team however - they just looked like they couldn't care less, which was just unbelievable given their amazing second half performance against QPR.

  • Comment number 65.

    With the way the top teams keep changing their defenses around the players don't get used to playing with each other, last season the CBs for the top 3 teams were: Ferdinand and Vidic, Terry and Alex/Luiz, Kompany and Toure/Lescott. This season though it's Terry and Luiz, of which Luiz isn't that great a defender (watch him against QPR at certain points) and Kompany and Lescott, out of the top 6 teams the only one that looks quite assured is Man City's (if Ledley King was fit enough to play most matches I would say Tottenham as well) because the two CBs are the same for each PL match, with Richard's the main RB it adds to the the three of them playing with each other each week (not the same for LB because Clichy and Kolarov change like each, or every other game). Man U's has changed quite a lot over the past few months, in like a year or so I do believe Smalling and Jones will be the 2 main CBs, but at the moment the changing isn't helping anyone.

  • Comment number 66.

    I agree with the post about teams wanting to copy Barca's style of play. Newcastle tonight adopted their tactic of chasing in packs and not diving in. Utd have tried to move the ball through midfield quicker.

    The problem is that Barca are so unique in what they do that if you fall down on copying them you get a battering. The way they don't actually 'tackle' in the blood and thunder sense has seen a revolution in football. How ITV laughed when Mascherano was forced to be their centre half and talked about how Utd would be licking their lips etc but in reality they just make it so difficult to even get at them that even I could play there for them.

    When you can get at them they do concede soft goals & I believe that Premiership sides, in trying to copy this style of play, are suffering from the downsides of this. Look at Utd when their keeper has it, both centre half's pull wide, the full backs move up the pitch (Just like Abidal & Alves do) as De Gea plays it out & starts possession. Utd's problems have been that they don't have players used to that system or as good as Xavi, Iniesta & Busquets or centre halves who are good ball players like Pique.

  • Comment number 67.

    I don't think that defending has got worse, its just that teams in the epl especially the top teams are more open. Man Utd have transformed their team and players like young and cleverly are more forward thinking players, even the defenders they have brought in like smalling and jones go forward with the ball, villas boas is a more attacking and fluent football manager than chelsea have previously had and obviously arsenal are well arsenal, and man city have become a more open team especially this season with the inclusion of nasri aguero and clichy, and spurs have been great this season playing some really great open football van der vart defoe adebayor modric and bale are on fire at the moment. Everyone saw in the world cup last year that if you set up the right way then you can defend well witht eh two holding midfielders but then you would not have the excitement. And players are so much faster and then are so many tricks its difficult for defenders especially full backs who are expected to attack now more than ever, it is getting to the stage now where the best for of defense is going to have to be having possession of the ball and having players who are good in possession are becoming more and more valuable just as important as the player who can win the game with a moment of brilliance.

  • Comment number 68.

    Yes, the premier league defending is getting worse, but to be honest we would prefer to see more goals that is due to poor defending rather than seeing a lot less goals due to very good defending. Nearly all the team are doing more attacking than defending so far this season. Already win have seen some high scoring matches like 8-2, 6-1, 5-3 and I expect we will be getting more high scoring matches throughout this season.

  • Comment number 69.

    how ironic that the one team who are showing the rest how to defend are the team most synonomous with being shaky at the back, well done alan pardew

  • Comment number 70.

    Good. The more open play and more attacking mentality for teams hopefully means even better goals and cricket score headlines to come. Who likes watertight 1-0s and 1-1s and 2-1s anyway? Apart from managers, but whatever.

  • Comment number 71.

    When goals per game is low and defenders are keeping the goals out, people complain that the game is defensive and boring.

    When the opposite it true, people moan that we've suddenly lost the art of defending.

    I know which of the two I'd rather have.

  • Comment number 72.

    I think the major issue is to do with defenders being afraid of tackling. We all know that as soon as you touch a player he is going down screaming and this gives the refs such a massive decision and they seem to always punish the defending player as opposed to the attacking player rolling around on the floor.

    I don't think i have ever made a tackle where some part of my body hasn't contacted with the player with the ball. its part and parcel of the game and the sooner the ref's and players learn this then we can get back to seeing a blood and thunder match where everyone gets stuck in.

    in reference to the "jump tackles", I got yellow carded the other day for jumping towards the ball (both feet off the ground) to make an interception, there wasn't a player within 10 yards of me but the referee deemed it a dangerous tackle!! What chance do we defenders have??

  • Comment number 73.

    It has certainly been an exciting league so far, some top goals and scorelines. Man City have yet to be on the end of a thrashing, that said i'm sure last season they had one if not the best defensive record so that is a littly worrying but i'm sure their time will come soon.
    Hopefully these big results are a wake up call and normal service will now resume amongst the big four.

  • Comment number 74.

    I think it's a bit premature to compare statistics only a quarter of the way through the current season; you can't compare this with full season historic stats. There are 2 tables showing number of red/yellow cards over only 5 seasons; this season stats (for this quarter only) nestles in between seasons from 5-10 years ago...so what's the trend? In reality you can't compare these stats meaningfully

    Also, squad numbers have increased recently to maintain fitness across the various competitions. Squad rotation would also impact comparison betweens seasons being compared massively.

    Ok, there have been a lot of goals so far this season but I'm sure we'll see plenty of 0-0's to even out the balance shortly. I hope not, but take a look at the last World Cup for evidence to oppose your views

  • Comment number 75.

    I think it's an interesting point about the lack of quality in tackling and also the law changes discouraging defenders from making a tackle. I think there are a couple of points to bear in mind:

    1. Phil Neville on the Monday Night Club suggested that tackling techniques are not being coached in training at clubs. Given that this is one of the most technical areas of the game, is someone missing a trick? it is possible to teach this particular skill to players.

    2. While I agree that games have been very exciting so far, there is an element of repetitiveness about it. The art of good, well timed tackles brings an extra element to the game. Watching the recent Rugby World Cup, I was struck by how law changes don't allow players to compete for the ball any more. Law makers, in their efforts to make the game more spectator friendly, have actually made it more pedestrian because defences simply spread across the field rather than compete for the ball in a more natural ebb & flow. I would hate to see football's laws take away a technical, physical element of the game which can be as entertaining as attacking play. Will we see the like of Bobby Moore's tackle on Pele again? Or would he be shown a red card for it today?

  • Comment number 76.

    Not sure I agree with the blog.

    In my mind the main issue is, historically, defending has hinged on experience, position and communication, rather than pace and physicality.

    Experience papered over the cracks for a time, but now the speed of play means CBS can rarely rely on this and play into their 30's. To maintain the line and keep up with the speed of todays game you need to have those attributes yourself.

    The likes of Terry, Evra, Cole, Ferdinand etc have simply reached their expiry date faster due to the acceleration of the pace of play in the modern game.

    The likes of Terry and Ferdinand have simply reached their expiry faster due to the acceleration of the pace of play.

  • Comment number 77.

    The defending in the premier has been poor for the last couple of season,

    there have been some dreadful mistakes and some terrible defences,

    but this season and the amount of goal being conceded can be partly blamed on the referee's,

    I'm a referee and the refereeing decisions this seasons in the premier league have been disgraceful. so some of the statistics above don't take into consideration of the referee's interference on the game and how they have effected the game.

    Man City vs Man Utd - Jonny Evans sending off,

    Everton vs Liverpool - Rodwell sending off,

    Norwich vs Blackburn - (handball in the 94th minute) wasnt a penalty

    3 games effected by refereeing decisions and i could pick out many more games.

    the defending hasnt got worse, it's stayed the same for many years, but it's the refereeing decisions that have got worse over the years,

  • Comment number 78.

    I still don't understand why matches with a high number of goals is bad thing! Isn't football supposed to be about entertainment? That's why so many people enjoy watching Barcelona - they play an attractive attacking game for 90 minutes without feeling the need to apologise for it.

  • Comment number 79.

    The Dixon-era Arsenal back-four was a classic in consistent and organised defence with great understanding. That has been very rare at my club, Newcastle, about the only time the defence looked coherent in recent years was when Woodgate was playing.

    Until now. I've been amazed by the degree of organisation this year, how at an historically attack-minded club, often with big stars, the players operate as a unit, this morning (Aussie time), when one player went forward in attack, those behind regrouped to maintain a solid defence. If it can be done at Newcastle, it can be done anywhere; even in Australia. When the A-League started, it was rare for a team to string three passes together; the quality was very low. Now my local team, Brisbane Roar, has an excellent coach and plays a controlled passing game. Sometimes they'll string over 20 passes together, controlling the game - they've gone 32 games without defeat - and, like the new Newcastle, have an organisation which ensures defensive cover. That organisation and passing pays off in attack too, some of those 20-odd pass movements end in goals, as they did in Friday's 7-1. In earlier years, an attack-minded Roar might have 25-30 shots in a game, but score one or two and lose or draw. Their much-improved conversion ratio owes much to their passing ability, defence splitting, precise balls which are easy to convert rather than a slap-dash approach where people are shooting from poorer positions.

    Similarly with Obertan's precise cross at Stoke, I'm amazed at Newcastle's run, but the foundations are right. With such foundations, there's a basis for a win even without Silva, Ballotelli, Dzeko (approx) Johnson et al up front. It will be interesting when we come up against the big guns, when we played Arsenal they epitomised Wenger's lack of attention to good defenders and holding mid-fielders, Man U and Chelsea are likely to be paying more attention to defence now.

  • Comment number 80.

    Why do these so called analysts like Dixon always blame rule changes as an excuse. The rule changes (the ones he stated above), will ensure less number of players are injured because of lesser number of career threatening tackles.

    For me, the defenders have to step up and do their job...
    but i will certainly enjoy if goals are flying in from both the sides... shouldn't be one way traffic though...

    and i hope u are not referring to more injuries when u say "art of defending has to improve"

  • Comment number 81.

    The tone of the blog sounds like the concern expressed by Cricket experts about the decrease in importance of bowlers in cricket with advent of limited over cricket. But indeed more goals (and more runs) is more entertaining!

  • Comment number 82.

    It's not that teams have become more attacking or that defenders have lost the art of defending but rather that the midfield has become ignored.

    With teams playing such high lines the goal appears to be to go direct, by pass the midfield and rely on speedy players to break the defensive line - and the role of the midfield is now to act as subsiduary attackers to support the lone striker.

    As for the notion that more goals makes for more exciting matches. I don't buy it. To me it suggests that the managers don't know how to set their teams up correctly, are relying on luck rather than tactics and that the current tactical play owes more to the 9-2-1 formations of the 1890's than anything to do with modern football. As proven by the way in which the English clubs are struggling in the Champions League.

    Watching the Chelsea Arsenal match at the weekend was like watching schoolboy football, with everyone chasing the ball and all the players clumped together like they were playing Wembley. Not a good advert for the Premier League.

  • Comment number 83.

    A PL side will be thrashed 6-0 by Bayern, Barca or Madrid in the CL this season. I don't think that it will be City, as these know how to lock the door if they need to. Arsenal, United or Chelsea could be embarassed very soon..

  • Comment number 84.

    @ 83

    Thats not any different to what has happened in the PL so would it really be a shock?

    I think that the EPL teams need to find the right balance between attack and defence.

    I think that Mancini has stumbled across a half decent formation with his 2 DM's as it gives the attacking players so much more freedom to go and do what they like. I think if Chelsea, Man utd and Arsenal had a couple of decent DM's in their squads they would look to play this formation especially in the away games in Europe

  • Comment number 85.

    Funny how things go round. Man City and Man United were the top two teams in 1967/68, the last time so many goals were scored.

  • Comment number 86.

    Just imagine the goals that would have been scored had the Penalty conversion rate been average!

    But like many have said, the refereeing, sendings off, diving, penalties. Have been the factor here this season.

    Has anyone got these statistics for Sendings off(s?) and Pens compared to this time last season? If so please post it as it would be interesting. I might look into it if I get bored. Off the top of my head I don't think I can think of a weekend which did not involve a penalty! If not two! It is quite anoying.

    South American games and the Bundesliga are always high scoring. And are notorious for embarrassing diving....I don't think this is a coincidence.

  • Comment number 87.

    I should have added " and then came Leeds, under Don Revie, who ruined it all.

  • Comment number 88.

    The does seem to be an "I want to be like Barcelona syndrome" going around. Admirable but risky as ManU found out.Before a team can master this art things are liable to get worse before they get better.It would probably be smarter for them to experiment with lower level opponents rather than the stronger ones.

  • Comment number 89.

    Agree with No.10, teams are more likely now than before to favour high profile purchases of attackers over defenders. Defence will adjust, and it makes for a more exciting brand of football .. Another side-noted salute to managers like Wenger who are champions of the 'Attack to defend' policy.
    Cannot agree that Man City will lose the title due to their defending though, I think Mancini and his team tactics are better geared over the season's run to deal with the issues, and I do pit them as firm favourites to win it!! And I am a gunner!!

  • Comment number 90.

    Sadly enough football has become a non-contact sport. I have had several arguements about Charlie Adam's 'dive' at Anfield. Most of which (well Liverpool fans) have said that 'there is contact'. Which there was, but probabaly the least you will ever be able to make! I don't look up the rule book, but if contact=foul. Which every football fan says these days, then it was a foul. But it is just so hard to comprehend that this is what football has now become. And there is no feasible way of fixing it. Honestly, I don't think the Adam 'foul' would have been one, 5 years ago let alone 10-20!

    I know I have gone off on a tangent but unless diving starts getting punished, the game is going to suffer.

    At the moment -
    Defenders are afriad to even attempt to tackle over fear of conceeding a penalty/card
    Referees are afraid to officiate over fear of media backlash
    What are divers afraid of? A bit of stick from opposing fans? Big deal.

  • Comment number 91.

    There have been 22 reds and 32 pens in 98 games of premier league football

    0.22 reds per game
    0.32 pens per game

    Don't know how to get past statistics same time last season, but I wouldve thought this is a pretty high ratio.

  • Comment number 92.

    I got yellow carded the other day for jumping towards the ball (both feet off the ground) to make an interception, there wasn't a player within 10 yards of me but the referee deemed it a dangerous tackle!! What chance do we defenders have??
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    so why didnt you just control it and pass it off, if there was no one around?

  • Comment number 93.

    At the moment -
    Defenders are afriad to even attempt to tackle over fear of conceeding a penalty/card
    Referees are afraid to officiate over fear of media backlash
    What are divers afraid of? A bit of stick from opposing fans? Big deal.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I agree to a point. Yeah diving is at an incredible rate now, and when we say diving, its not even taking into account the times when player feels contact and goes down, because he knows it will draw a foul/peno.

    I hate to say it, but so far thats why City have been so good, they dont lose posession that much in the midfield, so defenders arent put under pressure as much as say United are, as we have swiss cheese at the moment in midfield.

    The poor defending comes from poor midfield for me.

  • Comment number 94.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 95.

    "If you look at all the top teams, they have all had problems defensively".

    But City does not have problems for now. Does it mean experts still do not consider City top team? First place, highest number of goals since 19 century and thrashing top teams is not enough?

  • Comment number 96.

    @94.

    Don't quite understand how that broke the house rules...

  • Comment number 97.

    why was Trawlers comment removed? You gotta be kidding right?

  • Comment number 98.

    I'd be interested to see some proper statistical analysis (rather than averages), as my guess is that 3 or 4 freak results have skewed the figures, and the remaining matches would have a fairly normal number of goals.

    Put simply, it would be far more significant if all the matches had 1 goal above average, rather than a handful of matches having 5 goals above average.

    I think it's being talked about because it's unusual for the top teams to be involved in these freak games. I don't think people would notice so much if these high-scoring thrillers had involved less fashionable teams like Bolton or Newcastle.

  • Comment number 99.

    Don't quite understand how that broke the house rules.

    -------------------------------------

    me neither, my only thoughts are that because of the mention of a certain player from a certain team......

  • Comment number 100.

    just looked at the house rules...havn't before. I saw this doozy at the bottom, for breaking the house rules.

    'Are considered to be off-topic for the blog discussion'

    How are Soul_patch's La liga posts making it onto Mcnulty's premier league blogs every week!?!?!

 

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