Premiership drought in goals: Not the stingy defense

Paul Wilson has a post on the decrease in goals seen this season in the Premiership. Of course, the usual suspects are the foreign coaches led by Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez, and Arsene Wenger, who have brought a tactical level to the game hitherto unseen in English football. Their method is to emphasize stingy defense and an attack that relies on scoring first, then shutting down shop. If all else fails, then play not to lose. The result is that the Premiership is averaging 2.14 goals per game and at this rate a total of a bit more than 800 goals would have been scored by the end of the season.
Contrast this with the Dutch league which averages over 3 per game, the Bundesliga with 2.75, and even the Serie A has 2.5. The last is a eyebrow raiser. The Serie A is scoring more than the Premiership? What happened to all those Italian defenders? The ones that can stifle any attack and induce benumbing boredom in every match.
What really comes through is that coaches are less willing to take risks. Their jobs are not only on the line but there is also an economic penalty to pay when the club gets relegated and loses out on the 20 million payout as part of the revenue sharing that comes with Premiership TV rights.
However this year’s drought of goals can’t be blamed entirely on coaches tactics and stingy defenses. That is where I differ. I think a lot of what we see is due to under-performing strikers and injury depleted attacks. A number of these strikers are also struggling with a new league altogether. Andriy Shevchenko has scored 3 goals in 13 appearances. With AC Milan he had 19 goals in 28 appearances the previous season. Similarly, Carlos Tevez has yet to score in his West Ham debut. In the 30 matches he played for Corinthians he scored 24 goals.
Under-performing strikers include Thierry Henry who has scored 6 goals in 12 appearances. This is well off his 2005-2006 pace when he scored 27 goals in 32 appearances. Robbie Keane has disappeared, 13 appearances have yielded just a goal for the Spurs. Liverpool has scored just 19 goals in 16 appearances. 4 of them came against Wigan this weekend in a veritable explosion. Gerrard and Luis Garcia, normally reliable scorers have combined for a paltry pair of goals compared to 17 last season.
Newcastle’s attack has disappeared with injuries to Michael Owen and Shola Ameobi who are lost to the season. Damien Duff and now Scott Parker are not expected back for another month. At this rate Roeder cannot expect the fantastic climb back in the second half of the season that helped them to 7th position this year. Having these players around would have definitely helped them to score more than the anemic 9 goals in 14 matches.
The Premiership is also suffering from inertia. Man U and Chelsea have widened the gap at the top with 41 and 35 points respectively, to virtually ensure that other clubs have very little chance winning the title. Arsenal and Liverpool have had no traction, and are 16 points behind Man U. 7 clubs are within a point of each other. There is very little incentive to score goals because clearly some clubs have given up and are looking for other measures of success.
Contrast this with the Italian Serie A which finds itself in an interesting position. And I wager that this year’s scoring is up because of the scandal that relegated Juventus to Serie B and led to point handicaps for Lazio, AC Milan, and Fiorentina. The flux that this has created has given a great opportunity to clubs with hitherto little chance to make their mark in Serie A, especially against the northern clubs, and in international football. AS Roma is in a dogfight with Inter for a great chance to take their fourth Scudetto and play the European Cup next year. Totti has been on fire with 9 goals in 14 appearances. Meanwhile, Fiorentina is trying to shoot its way out of relegation with Toni and Mutu combining for 12 goals. Another factor in the increased scoring is that the Serie A teams do not have to play the stingy Juventus defense. The trio of Cannavaro, Zambrotta, and Thuram have departed for the more salubrious climes of the Liga.
It would be interesting to study the influence that TV viewership has on the Premiership. The league is the most watched in the world with TV, merchandising, and advertising revenues generating 1.3 billion pounds. This is 43% more than the second placed Serie. The market is only going to grow with more money available for the 20 elite clubs. This rather than coaching tactics, stingy defense, or sub-standard attack will dictate the nature of the Premiership. I predict that the Premiership will continue to grow more and more conservative as coaches will become increasingly loath to come on camera to explain why their team lost. It can make that much of a difference in T shirt sales. Of course, such a trend will result in a course correction but I don’t expect that to happen in the next five years. By then, the only goals will come through the ultimate set piece, the PK.

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