Last season Liverpool almost won their first Premier League title and first Championship since 1990. It becomes clearer by the week that this was driven by one factor; an ability to score goals. The sale of Luis Saurez and the absence of Daniel Sturridge through injury has left the Reds languishing in mid-table after eleven games. The 14 goals they have scored so far means they will probably be a million miles away from the 101 they managed by the end of last season, come next May.
Amazingly however 101 goals was not the most last year. Man City scored 102!. David Butler has shown here that the team that scores the most goals generally wins the league. That was true again in 2013-2014 and has caused some to question the quality of defending in the Premier League. Gary Neville recently wrote a fabulous piece on the death of defending in the Premier League and argues that stopping attackers from scoring is becoming a lost art.
Neville hits so many points on the head. Defending is now much harder than before because both institutions (rules) and incentives have changed so much since he started out that it's impossible to defend today like players did in the past. Just take a look at this Roy Keane "tackle" on Oldham's Neil Pointon. Before you do, watch out for three things:
1. Pointon's reaction.
2. The reaction of the Oldham players.
3. Trevor Brookings' comment on the tackle.
Pointon simple gets to his feet. The Oldham players don't surround Keane or the referee. Brooking says the words "definitely worth a booking". You don't say Trevor.
So is the art of defending dying or indeed dead? Are there now more goals scored in the Premier League than ever before? The data tells us no. Below is the number of goals scored in each English top-tier season from 1976-1977 to last season, adjusted for the number of teams.
The trend is downward. The figure controls for the fact the league moved from 22 teams to 20 and back again before resting on 20 since the 1995-1996 season. Watching the Premier League today, I am compelled to agree with Gary Neville; the art of defending does seem to be dying, Yet the data tells us the number of goals being scored is in decline. An interesting puzzle.