So far this season there have been 438 goals in the Premier League, and we’re not even half way through. If this scoring trend were to continue throughout the season then that would leave us with around 1,100 goals, which would be a new record. In fact the defensive side to our teams just seems to be having a bit of a shocker all round really. Last year’s fad was snoods, this year it’s to have a leaky defence. And this fashion isn’t confined to the lower teams either. When was the last time you saw Arsenal concede eight in one game, or Man Utd concede six or Chelsea concede five at home? What is it about our league that has suddenly invited upon itself the desire to attack without inhibition and allow our defences to bear the brunt of the consequences? Is it lesser players, or a change in tactics, new strikers in the league or are the referees playing their part too?
Obviously tactics play a part; in particular Andre Villas-Boas and Arsene Wenger are guilty of ignoring the defensive side to their jobs. Admittedly both have improved recently but Andre Santos’ admission that he had never spoken to Wenger about his defending is a worrying indictment of the way Arsenal football club is managed. Sure, Pat Rice handles the defensive side to the team but it would be reassuring for Arsenal fans to at least know that Wenger was playing some role in the defensive coaching of his side. To be fair to Wenger his side’s defensive performances this year are much better than last year and with the return of Thomas Vermaelen they look far more sturdy. Similarly with Villas-Boas despite his defensive struggles as he adapts to life in the Premier League the last two games have proved that his side are making progress.
However whilst there is some debate as to whether the top English clubs are not as good as they once were, the other argument is that the lower teams have got better. What this means is that firstly any team feels like they can beat any other, which lends itself to more attacking play and therefore more goals scored and conceded. It also means that because life at the bottom of the table is so tight a points total of around 40 come the end of the season may no longer be enough to keep your side up. This means that the lower teams have to take more risks against the bigger clubs in order to stay ahead of their rivals.
One of the factors that are definitely playing a part is the influx of foreign money in to our league. If you think that in the last couple of years Man City alone have brought Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, David Silva and Edin Dzeko. When players like these come to your league they are obviously going to score goals, and plenty of them too. Whereas in the past teams playing Man City had to worry about Samaras they now have to worry about Aguero. It makes sense that we would see more goals, even if Wenger is doing his best to keep the goal tally down by buying players like Chamakh and Park.
However the factor that surely has the largest impact upon our ever more permeable defences is the crackdown on strong tackles by referees. Everything is a foul these days. Take the Blackburn vs. Sunderland game on Sunday for example. Scott Dann’s header was ruled out because Sunderland goalkeeper Westwood came for the ball and missed it. Despite there being nothing wrong with Dann’s goal it was ruled out and that is typical of our referees’ attitudes towards both the defence of goalkeepers and the punishment of defenders in modern football. Clearly the more stringent approach from officials was introduced with the best of intentions but the way it has affected the game has gone too far. Yes, tackles were perhaps too vicious twenty-five years ago but today we have fallen victim to the type of play-acting that would make the Royal Shakespeare Company proud. What’s the point of having tall physical defenders if they can’t use their physical presence to the full advantage? What’s the point of having the courage to attempt a last ditch tackle, as Rio Ferdinand did against Newcastle, if you’re only going to get penalised for it even if you win the ball. The consequence of this culture in today’s football is that the defenders are at a natural disadvantage, and it shows. Defenders, like all players, need to have confidence in their ability and their actions in order to perform effectively; but how can they have confidence when the line between an acceptable tackle and a dangerous one is blurry even for the referees?
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