Stoke and Norwich show route to Premier League success starts at the back

Robert Huth Defends

England's top flight has been celebrated this season for the quality of its attacking play, but with so many sides' defences looking half-baked, the teams who have organised themselves well are reaping the benefits.

That Manchester United are six points clear at the top of league rather seems to indicate that your defence doesn't really matter as long as you have enough firepower going forward.

United have let in goals for fun this year, relying on their incredible front quartet to get them the three points regardless. Given the quality United do have going forward, they may be able to get away with this all season, but there are plenty of other sides that have been as slipshod at the back, and not everyone has van Persie and Rooney to save the day.

With so many sides looking poor defensively, the few that have really sorted themselves out have benefitted hugely, as when teams do manage to keep a clean sheet, they're picking up three points more often than not.

Stoke have been the best example of this all season, with Pulis's side returning a clean sheet in half of their 16 matches this season, only conceding twelve goals in total. This robust defence has led to them only losing three times, despite only managing 14 goals themselves.

In recent weeks other sides have tightened up their defences, and transformed their form drastically as a result. Since losing 4-1 to Chelsea, Norwich have only conceded seven goals in nine games, with three of those coming in a 4-3 win at Swansea.

Until the weekend, Norwich hadn't been firing in goals themselves, but they are unbeaten in nine, and safely in mid-table due to their strong defence. Aston Villa and Southampton are now attempting to follow this route. Villa have only conceded once in their past four matches, with Adkin's Southampton only letting in four in six games.

Even if this only leads to draws at first, it can build a confidence around the side that improves attacking play as well eventually. Norwich have now scored six in the last two games, with some superb attacking play built on their towering defence.

The Premiership is an incredibly exciting league because of the vast amounts of goals that are flying in, but more teams are now realising that building a side around a strong defence the best route to more consistent success, unless of course you do have Rooney and van Persie up front.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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