Defences on Top in the Premier League this Season
The 20/21 Premier League season was unique for the fact that so many of the English top tier’s best teams were shipping goals left, right, and centre. One of the worst offenders for this were Liverpool, who without their talismanic centre back Virgil van Dijk appeared hapless at the back.
The red half of Liverpool were not the only ones suffering this fate, though, with the likes of Man Utd also finding clean sheets almost impossible to come by. How things can change in a matter of months, because Liverpool’s crazy 3-3 draw with Brentford aside, things have been kept a lot tighter at the back in this season’s Premier League.
Here we take a look at some of the reasons for this newfound defensive mindset sweeping the Premier League, as well as whether it will last or be blown away by a sudden deluge of net busters.
Places like Old Trafford are becoming footballing fortresses again, as managers focus on building strong defensive foundations for their team to thrive upon
The Euro 2020 Effect
Few observers and experts expected the action at Euro 2020 to have quite so much of a profound effect on domestic leagues around Europe. The most obvious of these was that the best teams at the tournament were undoubtedly those that built from the back, often combining a strong back line with a couple of defensively minded defenders.
The starkest example of this was Gareth Southgate’s England. The ex-penalty fluffer confounded the critics by leaving much of the attacking talent he had at his disposal on the bench and sticking with players like Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips, both of whom provided incredible protection for a backline that was already pretty strong in the first place. On the other side of the draw, Italy employed much the same tactics.
This has quite obviously had a profound effect on Premier League managers, many of whom have decided that this year’s title could come down to who has the best defence. Teams like Man City have forgone having a star striker to instead focus on keeping clean sheets. Liverpool invested in cover for Van Dijk rather than bolstering their front line and there was almost as much buzz for Raphaël Varane joining Man Utd as there was Jadon Sancho.
Kane and Son Out of Sorts
Part of the reason that last season was such a goal fest was because strikers like Harry Kane and Son Heung-min were at the top of the scoring charts; almost always being the first names on any soccer accumulator bet slip. This season has been a stark contrast with Kane suffering the predictably negative aftermath of a lost Euro 2020 final and a transfer saga that eventually saw him condemned to another season of trying to whip Spurs into life. Betting tipsters and experts will still expect this lethal Tottenham duo to fire at some point this season, but by then their team will have very long soccer betting odds when it comes to winning the Premier League or FA Cup. Just watch out for those odds changing drastically if Kane somehow fashions a move to Man City in January.
Dias, Walker, and Cancelo have been practically unbeatable at the back for Man City this season, as they make up for the loss of Agüero by keeping clean sheets
Injured Strikers Have Led to Goal Droughts
Kane and Son are just two of the Premier League hot shots who have been firing blanks this season, but there are plenty of others who have struggled to get up and running, largely due to niggling injuries that did not have time to heal over the summer.
Some of the strikers who have spent the initial weeks of the season on physio tables rather than practice pitches are Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Callum Wilson, and Ollie Watkins, all of whom will be chomping at the bit to get back in amongst the goals.
Teams Hoarding Strikers
Another major issue that has been stymying the scoring of goals this season is that some teams in England and indeed around Europe are hoarding some of the best striking talent, and often suppressing some of their rising young talent in the process.
A perfect example of this are Man Utd, who currently have Cristiano Ronaldo, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Edison Cavani, Jadon Sancho, Jesse Lingard, and Anthony Martial all on their books. The signing of Ronaldo will always deliver goals in the Premier League short term, but in the long term would it not have been better to give the likes of Greenwood, Rashford and Lingard the chance to shine on the biggest stage? One thing is for sure, Lingard would certainly be scoring more goals had he made his loan move to West Ham a permanent one.
Premier League Whipping Boys No Longer Exist
There was a time in the Premier League where games against certain teams were three-point bankers, as newbies or financially hard-up sides were cut down by well oiled Champions League grade outfits. Those days are largely gone, with many teams coming up from the Championship showing that they have more than enough in the tank to trouble the very best.
Some notable teams in this regard are Leeds Utd, Brentford, and Brighton, all of whom have found ways to reap rewards from shrewd transfer policies and tactical masterplans. All of this has meant that racking up big wins against inferior opposition is a luxury of the past for the league’s big guns.
Reasons To Be Optimistic That Goals Will Return
So far, we have detailed all the reasons why goals have been scarce this season, but there are reasons to be optimistic that goal tallies will increase as the league campaign rolls on. Firstly, there is the change in VAR offside rules, giving more margin for error when deciding whether a goal stands or is disallowed.
Another development that should lead to more goals down the line is that new signings will begin to bed in at their respective clubs, meaning that the likes of Sancho, Ings, Ronaldo, and Lukaku will all begin to better understand how to link up with the talented players around them. The January transfer window will also no doubt see at least a couple of additional attacking options enter the fray. Until then, expect the Premier League’s much improved back lines to dominate for a little while yet.