What happened to the clean sheets?

Thank heavens for Birmingham and Liverpool, I was beginning to question my judgement. The goalless draw at St Andrews prevented Blackpool from staying as the only team with a clean sheet for this round of Premier League fixtures. So far this season, the water-tight defences have struggled to create last year’s shut-outs.

Chelsea stand out as the only team to have really been stingy this season. They’re fixtures haven’t been the most taxing, but Scott Parker’s consolation on Saturday remains the solitary goal that they have conceded in the league this term. Manchester United have also kept clean sheets in their two home games this season, against Newcastle and West Ham. But after that, it becomes a bit of struggle to find the fully functioning defensive units.

Last season, the purchases of Richard Dunne and James Collins for Villa were a master stroke, and along with Carlos Cuellar and Stephen Warnock, formed a backline that managed 15 clean sheets over the course of the season. So far they have had two clean sheets (their two home games) but the six conceded against Newcastle was an awful defensive performance – very uncharacteristic.

Everton are another team that boast accomplished defenders, behind solid central midfielders and a reliable goalkeeper backing them up. And yet, the side has yet to record a shut-out so far this season, even against Shrewsbury at home in the Carling Cup. Admittedly, their general form has been somewhat off colour. Newcastle visit Goodison next, and this could be a chance to stop the rot, as long as they can carry the momentum from the fight back against Man Utd, and get to grips with man of the moment Andy Carroll.

Is there a more organised unit than Birmingham City, especially at St Andrews? They have also replaced one good, young, English goalkeeper, with a good, young, English goalkeeper. The game against Liverpool was finally a return to form for Roger Johnson et al. Before that game, matches against Sunderland, Blackburn and Bolton all brought breaches of the defences.

Stoke, a side with a home record that makes visits to The Brittania a very unwelcome event, managed 14 clean sheets last season. Tony Pulis’ recipe of filling his backline with centre-backs worked well for him last season, and should continue to do so. No clean sheet so far this season. Shrewsbury even came to Stoke and got a goal.

And as for Spurs? White Hart Lane only saw 12 goals scored against them last term, helping them to 13 clean sheets in total. With whatever possible combination of defenders that Spurs put together, they haven’t yet managed to create the perfect formula. Wigan came to town on the back of two humiliating defeats, and having shipped nine at Spurs the year before, I was convinced this was a banker. Wigan of course came away with three points, and Spurs only couldn’t add to the one domestic clean sheet again Man City.

Maybe this is a good thing? We all want to see as many goals as possible, and no one wants to see repeated nil-nils. But there is a definite sense of pride in stopping teams from scoring; when it’s done well, it can still be good to watch. It might be a case of pre-season rustiness, but sides that were so mean last season really appear to be struggling to find their defensive feet again.

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