‘Strikers win you games, defenders win titles’, that was Kolo Toure’s reaction to criticism of Man City’s approach to their 0-0 draw with Arsenal in 2011. And professional sport is littered with similar clichés. But it looks like the defender’s current team are attempting to reverse this maxim. And there’s no reason to believe that they can’t.
The biggest argument against Liverpool winning the title has been their defensive record. And on the face of it, it would appear to be pretty strong. Liverpool have 38 goals after 30 games, meaning that whatever happens, they will finish the season with a goals conceded per game ratio of at least one.
Only one team has won the Premier League with a worse defensive record, and that was Manchester United last season, with a total of 43 conceded. If Liverpool continue on their current trend of allowing nearly 1.3 goals against them every game, they will end the year with a grand total of 48. And it certainly seems very unlikely that they will manage to reduce this average down to the 0.5 goals a game necessary to finish with less than United did last season.
But while Liverpool may concede more than this United team, they also score more. In Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season as manager, United managed an average of slightly less than 2.3 goals a game. Liverpool are currently doing far better than this, scoring over 2.7 goals per game on average. If they can keep this kind of scoring form up they will finish with 104 goals, beating the record of 103 set by that vintage Ancelotti Chelsea side of 2009/2010.
So while Liverpool winning the league this season may mean they’d set a record for goals conceded, they may also beat the record for goals scored. This in itself highlights an important point: we shouldn’t be thinking about these two numbers in isolation, but their relationship with each other.
Liverpool’s average of scoring over 2.7 goals a game is more than two times the 1.3 goals they concede on average. Essentially, this means they tend to score more than twice as much as they concede. And that’s going to mean you win a lot of football matches.
To put this in context, the ratio between these two numbers is better than the relationship United managed in winning the league last season, and only slightly worse than the ratio the same Manchester team managed when they were crowned champions in 2010/2011.
Therefore, Liverpool’s poor defence shouldn’t be a reason to believe they can’t win the league if they keep scoring so often. And there’s no reason to believe that they can’t keep this up given they’ve got two strikers in form.
The two leading scorers in the Premier League this season are both Liverpool players. Luis Suarez has managed 28 in 25 games, with an average greater than a goal a game. And Daniel Sturridge’s tally of 19 in 22 outings gives him an average of 0.87 goals every game. This means that both Liverpool’s forwards are more likely to score than not. And this gives the team a massive advantage.
Effectively, every team playing Liverpool starts the game with a handicap. Such is the team’s scoring prowess that the opposition know that they’re going to have to score if they’re likely to get anything from the game, and realistically get two or more, if they are to win.
Liverpool’s confidence in their scoring abilities was evident in their recent defeat of Cardiff City. Despite going behind twice in the game, the team never panicked. And this confidence was not misplaced, as they went on to finish the game with six goals.
So while having a poor defensive record certainly reduces your chances of winning the league, you cannot rule out a team’s chances on this factor alone. Goals against must be considered in parallel with goals for, and in this respect Liverpool appear to have a healthy relationship.
If Liverpool finish champions, it will be down to their strikers, not their defenders. Cliché or no cliché, it would seem the age-old adage of ‘strikers win you games, defenders win titles’ may be in need of a rethink.