Use of the winter break to save electricity bills (switched off TV), sit by the fireplace, and ponder, over a cigar and vintage wine, whether football defences are getting weaker, all over the world.
Arguably, its been a season where all pundits are looking for places to hide – from economic experts to soccer pundits. Who else would have expected TSG 1899 Hoffenheim to storm to the top of Bundesliga, having spent the previous season in 2nd division (a.k.a 2. Bundesliga), and the year prior to that, in Regionalliga Süd. They ride on an amazing strike power; 42 goals scored vis-à-vis 23 allowed. That makes 2.5 goals scored per game and 1.3 goals allowed per game. Its sums up that a trip to a Hoffenheim game, would guarantee you an entertainment of 3.8 goals.
The story isn’t over.
Bundesliga is averaging 3.02 goals per game, this season.
Current EPL leaders Liverpool have pumped in 35 goals off 20 games (despite not have Fernando Torres for a big chunk of the games) – compare this to their tally of 57 goals in EPL 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons.
Yet they are not the league’s leading goal scoring team. That title currently is held by Chelsea with 40 goals, followed by Manchester City (who are not even in the top 10) with 38 goals.
The Euro Nations cup 2008 held in June had 2.48 goals per game, a lot better than the 2.3 goals per game witnessed in World Cup 2006 (and you would agree that the ratio of weaker teams in WC is far more than those in Euro nations cup).
So are football defences crumbling?
Consider the goals per game ratios spanning the past 4 years. I took two sets of averages. The first number spans for seasons 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, till date, cumulative. This value is compared with the second number, which is goals per average cumulative over seasons 2005-2006 and 2006-2007.
1. La Liga averages 0.34 more goals per game (2.81 goals from Aug07- till date to 2.47 goals from Aug05-May07).
2. The English Premier League averages 0.22 more goals per game (2.60 goals from Aug07- till date vs 2.38 goals from Aug05-May07)
3. Champions league averages 0.19 more goals per game (2.61 goals from Sep07- till date vs. 2.42 goals from Aug05-May07)
4. Finally, the Bundesliga averages 0.15 more goals per game (2.92 goals from Aug07- till date vs. 2.77 goals from Aug05-May07)
On the flip side of the argument is the Italian Serie A, where the goals per game has been more or less the same, the past four years. Or for matter the current league leaders of Italy (Inter Milan) and Spain (Barcelona), who have constructed water tight defences – ones which you generally associate with a Chelsea or a Manchester United. This though hasn’t taken anything away from their scoring prowess.
Another pointer are the various World XI teams selected by journalists of Goal.com and French newspaper L’Equipe. Where there was a plethora of strikers and midfielders named across the team lists, there were barely 14 defenders featuring over the 10 different teams. Chiellini, Maicon, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Alves, Puyol, Nesta, Terry, Lahm, Lucio and Ramos featuring more often than the others. But one look at these legendary names and you may agree that while some of them are past their ‘best days’, a few others are known more for the entire package (attacking winger + scores goals + defender) they bring into a team, than solely for their defensive abilities.
The fourth dimension to this argument would be the modified “offside rule” introduced in 2003 where you can’t rule offside if the player is “deemed not in active play”. Are the higher goals per game, a resultant of this change, now that teams, managers, strikers have adjusted to it? Or are defenders still taking time adjusting to the various challenges posed by this change? or is the ever evolving football?
What do you think – Are football defences crumbling?
Wish you all a Merry Christmas and very happy new year.