ANOTHER great analysis piece from Will Dyer (@w2Dyer) here as he looks at the importance of a solid defence.
Strong Defence Or A Goalscoring Attack?
‘Defenses win championships’; excuse the American phrase but I think the Yanks are on to something and I thought I’d investigate and hopefully in turn highlight some potentially lucrative betting opportunities.
Now the Americans are of course referring to American Football in which a team’s defense and offense are on the field of play separately. A strong defense can ensure your offense gets more game time, has a better average field position and ultimately has to score less points to win the game.
Our football is obviously a little different, a more fluid game but one in which a strong defence can still have a huge impact. Most great coaches will tell you the first line of defence is actually the players in front of them; even strikers can help defend by badgering the opposition and winning the ball higher up the pitch keeping the pressure off the defence.
Fans have a hunger for attacking football, that’s only logical as it’s pleasing on the eye but I don’t think there’s enough focus on the defence in many instances. You need to score a goal to win a game but if you have a solid defence to work from you might only need to score one goal to win and that can be hugely influential in a sport so often decided by chance and just a handful of golden opportunities per game.
A good place to start is to compare the strongest defences with the strongest attacks (in terms of goals scored and goals conceded) in Europe’s top divisions over the last three years and see where those sides finished. In brackets Goals For (Top Attack) and Goals Against (Top Defence) alongside table position;
- 2014/15 – Top Attack; Man City (62, 2nd). Top Defence; Chelsea (25, 1st)
- 2013/14 – Top Attack; Man City (107, 1st). Top Defence; Chelsea (27, 3rd)
- 2012/13 – Top Attack; Man Utd (86, 1st). Top Defence; Man City (34, 2nd)
- 2014/15 – Top Attack; Barcelona (80, 1st). Top Defence; Barcelona (17, 1st)
- 2013/14 – Top Attack; Real Madrid (104, 3rd). Top Defence; Atletico (26, 1st)
- 2012/13 – Top Attack; Barcelona (115, 1st). Top Defence; Atletico (31, 3rd)
- 2014/15 – Top Attack; Marseille (60, 3rd). Top Defence; Monaco (21, 4th)
- 2013/14 – Top Attack; Paris SG (84, 1st). Top Defence; Paris SG (23, 1st)
- 2012/13 – Top Attack; Paris SG (69, 1st). Top Defence; Paris SG (23, 1st)
- 2014/15 – Top Attack; Bayern Munich (70, 1st). Top Defence; Bayern Munich (13, 1st)
- 2013/14 – Top Attack; Bayern Munich (94, 1st). Top Defence; Bayern Munich (23, 1st)
- 2012/13 – Top Attack; Bayern Munich (98, 1st). Top Defence; Bayern Munich (18, 1st)
- 2014/15 – Top Attack; Juventus (55, 1st). Top Defence; Juventus (14, 1st)
- 2013/14 – Top Attack; Juventus (80, 1st). Top Defence; Juventus (23, 1st)
- 2012/13 – Top Attack; Napoli (73, 2nd). Top Defence; Juventus (24, 1st)
The analysis shows us a bit of a mixed bag. If the season were to end now, the ‘Top Defence’ would have won 11 of the last 15 titles whilst the ‘Top Attack’ would also be on 11.
At first sight perhaps the theory doesn’t translate as well to soccer as we are without a noticeable difference between the influence of a potent attack and resolute defence. However, there are certainly times when having the toughest defence around is the deciding factor.
Atletico Madrid won La Liga last season despite scoring 23 goals less than Barcelona and 27 less than Real Madrid. They conceded seven less than Barca and 12 less than Real and that title win was largely due to defensive solidity.
Juventus have won the last four renewals of the Serie A despite being the top scoring side in just two of those seasons. In fact all of the last eight Serie A champions have had the best defensive record that season but only the best goal-scoring record in four of those years. Not since Inter Milan’s conquer in 2006/07 has the Serie A been won by a side who didn’t concede the least goals in the league.
The Bundesliga and Ligue 1 have been dominated by Bayern Munich and PSG in recent times so it’s harder to read in to the effect of a strong backline there.
Lille finished 3rd in Ligue 1 last season despite scoring the joint least of the Top 9 with just 46 goals, they only conceded 26 goals substantially less than anyone aside from PSG.
Conversely Hoffenheim scored 72 goals in the 2013/14 Bundesliga, the third most, yet their porous defence (only two sides conceded more that year) ensured they finished ninth.
It’s not just about winning titles. Defensive solidity, or lack of it, has ramifications for all clubs in every league and I think the importance of it is often understated. Strong defences saw some sides overachieve last season whilst poor defences saw a few sides finish way out of line with the merits that their attacking records deserved.
Manchester City might have won the 2013/14 Premier League with the best attack and without the best defence however, Liverpool finished 2nd with the second best attack but an awful defence.
The Reds conceded 50 goals giving them the 8th best defence in the league that year. Even Crystal Palace who looked relegated for much of the season conceded two goals less than them and they finished 11th. A better defence would surely have won Liverpool the league.
It doesn’t stop there. Crystal Palace had the 18th worst attack and finished 11th off the back of their defence which was seventh on fewest goals conceded. Fulham scored the 14th most goals in last season’s Premier League but their woeful backline conceded 85 goals, the worst defensive record around and saw them relegated in 19th place.
Swansea scored the eighth most but conceded the 13th most and ended up finishing 12th as a result whilst West Brom scored the 11th most but conceded 14th most and that defence dragged the Baggies down to 17th place surviving relegation by just three points.
I haven’t mentioned the Eredivisie yet. A league renowned for being incredibly high scoring, it's actually been won by the strongest defence for the last four years whilst the victors have only had the strongest attack in two of those four years.
In 2009/10 Ajax scored 106 goals, 43 more than FC Twente but the latter won the league by one point. They also conceded three goals more than Ajax but their ability to win tight games was their greatest asset in that season and goes to show that just scoring a bucket load of goals won’t always get you to the top.
I would say that this analysis has showed there to be a negligible difference between the importance of a good attack or good defence. There are plenty of occasions when sides have excelled in one more than the other but overall the overachievements of those unbalanced abilities tend to be ironed out in the long run.
I could not categorically state that it is better to have a potent attack than a resolute defence or vice versa and in many instances it is the more balanced sides that achieve greater success.
In the future I would look out for any big defensive signings or makeovers during the summer transfer window and perhaps favour those sides with the most potential at the back in any ante-post markets. Particularly in La Liga and the Serie A.
Without doubt the most impressive defence in French football at the moment is Monaco’s. In fact, I would argue that the Principality’s defence has been the best in world football in relation to what is expected of Monaco this season.
The Red and Whites have conceded just 21 goals this season; two less than league leaders PSG and let in just four goals in eight Champions League matches. From December to February they went on a run of 14 consecutive clean sheets in normal time and despite their involvement in the Champions League, they can beat Lyon and Marseille to second place.
I also think Middlesbrough’s tough defence can win them the Championship this season. Boro have conceded just 30 goals in 39 games, 10 less than any other side in the league. That also makes them the only side to concede less than one goal per game, on average. I think that defensive strength could be telling in the final few gameweeks.
French Ligue 1 without PSG – Monaco (4/1 Paddy Power)
English Championship – Middlesbrough to win (7/2 Bet365)
Another interesting piece from Will Dyer, but do you agree?
Let us know in the comments box below.