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Where have all the goals gone?


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Interesting article on how the current average of 2.14 goals per game is by far the lowest in Premiership history: -


Where have all the goals gone?


Paul Wilson

Sunday December 3, 2006

The Observer


Now Sky's alluringly alliterative Super Sunday Summit is out of the way, and Chelsea's visit to Manchester United can be filed under the modest heading of Fairly Tame 1-1 Draw rather than the Clash of the Titans and Showdown of the Century stuff that went before, it is a good time to consider a Premiership perspective that your television will not be yelling at you quite so loudly.

The bald fact of the matter is that the Premiership has become the lowest-scoring league in Europe. There are still grounds for regarding it as one of the most exciting - there was plenty of entertainment, and a few more goals than usual, on offer yesterday afternoon - but if goals are the currency of the game then statistics suggest England has gone into recession.


Look no further than the Reebok for an illustration. Bolton's defeat at Reading yesterday was their sixteenth game of the Premiership season, and they have managed just 15 goals. That might not sound too bad, though check where they are in the table. Before yesterday's games they were in fourth place, and despite results going against them they are still in the top eight. Averaging less than a goal a game in the Premiership is currently enough to put you in contention for European football.

There are other stats at the end of November that confirm the trend. Only three teams had scored 20 goals. Last season it was five at the same stage, and in every previous Premiership season the figure varied between seven and 13. The meagre current average of 2.14 goals per game is by far the lowest in Premiership history. Anyone betting £10 on every game to produce under three goals, on the Betfair betting exchange, would be more than £200 up by now. If the current ratio continues, the goals tally at the end of the season will be in the low 800s: every previous season has easily passed 900 and most have yielded more than 1,000.


Yet the biggest eye-opener, apart from the fact that the thirtysomething Nwankwo Kanu went into the weekend as joint-top scorer despite playing for a team who fail to turn up for most away games, is the comparison with other European leagues. Remember Serie A? The stiflingly dull and utterly defence-dominated Italian league that has just disappeared from English screens because it looked so boring next to the poptastic Premiership? They score more goals than we do. Everyone does.


The most prolific scorers in Europe are the Dutch, with more than three per game. The Bundesliga has managed 2.75, then the Scottish Premier and Serie A come in together at just over 2.5 goals per game. Everyone knows all the best defenders are in Italy, and the dodgiest goalkeepers are in Scotland; now there is a new stereotype to add to the list - the non-scoring striker in England.


In one sense, this is not true. Thierry Henry is still here, the only man to have scored 20 or more in five successive seasons. Yet in another sense it is observable reality. Henry is on his own now. Michael Owen is injured, Alan Shearer retired, Ruud van Nistelrooy in Spain. Where are all the other 20-goals-a-season strikers? Six players managed the feat in 1994-95, and four as recently as 2002-03. Last season there were just two, and one of those now plays for Real Madrid.


Is this the reason goal totals are down? Has a generation of expert goalscorers not been replaced? Or have goalscorers simply gone out of fashion, died out? More and more teams are setting themselves up 4-5-1, 4-1-4-1, or 4-3-3 now, with a player at the sharp end whose job is not just to sniff out scoring opportunities but to hold up the ball and link play. Coupled with increased defensive efficiency and willingness to try to win games from single strikes at set pieces - Sam Allardyce, for instance, makes no bones about his delight in clean sheets and 1-0 victories - this could be a factor. Yet it is hardly a new phenomenon. George Graham was at it years ago.


Arjan de Zeeuw, Wigan's Dutch centre-half who has been in and out of the Premiership for a decade, believes teams are deliberately sending out defensive formations. 'When I first came here everyone played 4-4-2 and you knew what you were going to get,' De Zeeuw explains. 'Now you see teams with one up front and five in the middle most weeks. And one of the five will usually be in the Claude Makelele position, providing an extra level of defence.


'I don't think games are necessarily any worse to watch, but everyone is more cautious now because there is such a big gap between the top three or four and the rest. Once you go behind against Chelsea they won't let you back into the game, so teams are thinking first and foremost about how not to concede.


'Johan Cruyff used to say all you had to do to win a game was score more goals than the opposition, but it's hard to find that attitude in the Premiership any more. Too much money at stake, too much pressure not to fail. Managers are not allowed to make mistakes. Look at Charlton. They weren't playing that badly, they played football and looked as if they could pull themselves round, but still the manager was sacked. That's pressure.'


Arsenal's Gael Clichy agrees. 'Time was when you'd see 4-3 matches quite regularly in England, that's what people abroad liked about the game here,' the full back says. 'Now most teams come to our place with nine defenders and one guy up front. Villa, Everton, Middlesbrough, Newcastle - they all came to defend. The problem for us is that we let them all score a goal, so that meant they sat back even more afterwards.


'Everyone is afraid of the big teams. They go out thinking if they don't concede then they can't lose. It doesn't seem a very English trait to me, and the notion that football is a game about goals and entertainment has been forgotten.'


Blame the managers, then? Guilty, plead Portsmouth's Harry Redknapp and Birmingham's Steve Bruce. 'I don't want to see the game go back to the dark ages of about 15 years ago, when everybody suddenly thought the game was about long balls, second balls, throw-ins, free-kicks and corners,' says Redknapp. 'I want to see flair players who can get you off your seat, but we played one up at Liverpool the other night and it worked for us. We made it difficult for them and got a point.'


Bruce is first amazed, then unapologetically blunt. 'More goals in Serie A than the Premiership? I could never have imagined that,' he says. 'It's an amazing statistic. I wouldn't have thought it possible.'


'But it's a results business,' adds Bruce, who knows how it feels to fail, having taken Birmingham down last season. 'In the Premiership, my job was to stay in. I understand where cautious managers are coming from because I've done it myself. We all want to see entertainment but we can't all be Manchester United. The Championship is very entertaining at the moment because about 12 clubs think they can win it. In the Premiership you've got 12 clubs shit-scared of relegation, and that's the difference.' No wonder they are scared, given that they stand to lose the TV pay-out that is nudging £20 million.


Ian Rush wonders if today's players enjoy the game, because he sees a parallel with his brief and unhappy sojourn in Italy. 'When I was at Juventus I didn't really enjoy the football,' he admits. 'If you went 1-0 up you'd just defend and that is happening here now. It's a pity, because in my view the best players in the world are in the Premiership and it would be easy to go out and entertain.'


Gloomier still is Christophe Dugarry, a World Cup winner with France who played in Italy, Spain and France before sampling the Premiership with Birmingham. 'I think something bad is happening to English football,' he says. 'What people love about it is the pace, the rhythm, the commitment. It's a spectacle. But I think the foreign coaches are changing that with a more tactical approach, and as there are fewer and fewer English players in the teams their task is made easier. They are bringing in lots of negative aspects from European football.


'Look at Rafael Benitez at Liverpool. He shows no desire to go forward, he just wants not to concede. The way he treats Steven Gerrard says it all. Gerrard has to be running the game, but he would run it in an English style, looking to attack or shoot all the time, blood and thunder, what the English crowds enjoy. But Benitez just wants everything organised, to be tactically correct. Jose Mourinho is the same. Having too many foreigners in England is ruining your game, in a way - it's taking away the natural attributes that the English enjoy.'


Yet some Europeans are prepared to greet fewer goals as positive rather than negative. Albert Ferrer, the former Chelsea and Barcelona full-back now working as a TV analyst in Spain, is impressed with the way the Premiership has tightened up at the back. 'When I played in England, the defenders were OK, but only OK,' Ferrer says. 'Now they are much better. There has definitely been an improvement and I think it is largely because they do more work on defence in training.'


So goals are not necessarily everything, and, surprising though it is to find the harum-scarum comedy knockabout that is the Premiership languishing a few dozen goals behind Serie A, there could even be a silver lining to this passing cumulus. We might have the best league in the world after all. That's what everyone said about Italy, when goals in Serie A were as rare as rocking-horse droppings. Our defenders can hold their heads high. Donkeys no longer, they can start congratulating themselves on their miserliness and concentration. Just for a change, all the other leagues around Europe can have a turn at being mocked for being frivolously concerned with entertainment and incident rather than proper football. Italy? Too many easy goals. Germany? Just playing at it.


Alan Hansen is going to have to come up with some new scripts. In the near future, when the average number of goals conceded in each game has slipped below two, stand by for Goal of the Month being superseded by Block of the Day, Tackle of the Year or Offside Trap of the Season. We are living in the age of the defender.


Fabio Cannavaro has just been named European footballer of the year to prove it, and as he pointed out, great defenders such as Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Marcel Desailly and Lilian Thuram never managed that. Probably because they all stayed in Italy too long. Cannavaro made a smart move in relocating to Spain, although plainly he is yesterday's man. The next European footballer of the year is bound to be Gary Neville or Linvoy Primus.


Best of all, and this should cheer up Sky, England are certain to win the next World Cup. Never mind the golden generation, get ready for the stingy set. We are England and we don't give away goals. It still sounds wrong but we have four years to get used to it. And it worked like a dream for Italy.


Are goals all they're cracked up to be, or do better defences make a better Premiership?

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Mourinho, Allardyce and Benitez are the main culprits. blueyes.gif bluesleep.gif


And Moyes. The attacking ability hasn't diminished [and if so, not substantially], it's just team ethos and tactics that have besmirched the game.

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Guest Boqueron

A point for each goal scored. No points for win or draw - just for goals scored. That would bring back the goals and cut out any defensive "play for the draw" mentality.

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Guest Gemmill

A point for each goal scored. No points for win or draw - just for goals scored. That would bring back the goals and cut out any defensive "play for the draw" mentality.



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Fine as it is, to be fair. 


Out of all the proposals made by some panel from FIFA months back, the only one I'd go for is the goals being widened a few inches.  Mainly down to keepers being a whole lot better than in the past.


Changing the points system will do nothing but help the stronger teams. 

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I think its mostly down to teams copying Everton and to a certain extent Bolton, and the success (ie, being the best of the rest) they have had playing with this 451 nick a goal mentality. But I think its strange that so many teams try to emulate it. These are teams designed with players who are suited to the formation and tactics (Cahill and the like) but most teams are built on the premise of playing a 442 most weeks, especially at home. Why do teams convert to 451 on away trips when they only have strikers who need a partner or don't have the midfield to join the attack? Its supposed to be a more defensive formation but the ineptitude of the attack invariably means it ends in teams walking all over them. Wigan 4-0 for us, Manure 2-0 for yous, Charlton's entire season, etc. I think we'll see an improvement in goals/game when more teams realise that they'll do better if they actually give the opposition something to think about.

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To be honest, no one really feels the prem is boring until sky or whoever point it out. Then they roll out the statistics and make everyone feel miserable about the prem..


They should just f**k off

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"Out of all the proposals made by some panel from FIFA months back, the only one I'd go for is the goals being widened a few inches.  Mainly down to keepers being a whole lot better than in the past." Bluf



Or the keepers have to eat 3 pies just before kick off. bluebiggrin.gif


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