Record goals - Are attackers better or defenders worse?

Arsenal’s 7-3 demolition of Newcastle United at the Emirates made Saturday December 30th 2012 a historic day in Premier League football as a new record of 35 goals in a single day the highest total.

But, as the plaudits must go to the array of attacking talent on display across the country on Saturday, where does that leave defenders? Are the forwards simply getting better or are defenders getting worse?

Rather than point to the 35 goals scored that day, it may be more useful to understand how 35 goals were conceded.

On paper, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference so far this season from last season. The highest team score this term is Chelsea 8-0 Aston Villa, last season it was Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal which was also the highest aggregate score with a total of 10 goals. Saturday’s result at the Emirates matches that exactly.

We’ve now played just over half of the season – Manchester United have scored the most goals, 50 in total. Manchester City’s total last season was 93, a little less than double the league leaders’ present total. City averaged 2.45 goals per game last term, whilst United are currently the highest scorers with an average of 2.5 goals per game. There really isn’t much in it.

But the team so far who concedes fewest goals on average is Stoke City with 0.85 goal conceded per game – last season City conceded fewest on average with 0.76 per game.

It doesn’t sound like a lot but over the course of the season, that adds up and considering Stoke are 8th position currently, that’s a decent indicator that the teams in the top half of the table are conceding at a higher rate and, equally scoring at higher rate. Interestingly, Stoke have scored the fewest goals this season, just 17 – last season they scored the fewest with just 36.

So, there may be a pattern emerging – looking at this season in the context of the last does not offer much of an answer but if we go back 10 years to the 2002/03 season there are some remarkable differences.

Arsenal scored highest with 85 goals, 2.24 per game on average, whilst Manchester United conceded fewest with 34, an average of 0.89 per game, but, crucially, the top teams are now conceding more often than they used to and the smaller teams are scoring more.

The Premier League has become more open – teams prefer attacking football that leaves them more vulnerable defensively and as a consequence the league has become more exciting for the spectator.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that defenders as individuals have gotten worse, but more that the team’s are set up more offensively with more flair players distributed amongst the teams.

You look at a team like Swansea with a player like Michu; there is far more attacking ambition and talent amongst the teams outside the top four than there used to be.

Whilst transfer fees have been constantly rising for the top players, there is a huge supply of attacking talent that outweighs the demand of the top teams. Subsequently, there is a higher caliber of player available for the teams on a tighter budget.

image: © rich_w

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