Ladbrokes News Lab: How the Premier League has lost the art of defending

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On Saturday every home side in the Premier League scored at least three goals, and the top-flight is on course to see the most goals scored in one season.

The current record stands at 1,066 goals in the 2011-2012 season – or 2.81 goals per game if you prefer – but at this season’s rate we will complete the campaign with 1,098 – 2.89 per game.

And the football traders have had their say too, going 4/7 that this season is sees the most goals in Premier League history.

So why the sudden spike in goals?

This is what we’ve been investigating at Ladbrokes News

Rather than the effects of a summer influx of the world’s greatest strikers – because that never happened – we’ve concluded that the current goal glut is largely to be down to a modern way of defending in the Premier League. That is to say, badly.

Only two clubs in the division are currently on course to concede less than a goal a game.

And it’s no surprise to see that those two sides are Chelsea and Tottenham. Two teams coached by the defensive-obsessive pair of Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino respectively.

The pair may be going about their business in different ways, but the results are similar.

Trigger-happy chairman should bear some responsibility

But for the rest of the Premier League, goals have been flooding in, and a lot of that can be put down to impatient chairmen.

Nine teams have already conceded 25 goals or greater, meaning they’re each on course for an eye-watering 63 goals conceded – at least – by season’s-end.

Of those nine, only Burnley and Bournemouth can vouch for managerial stability with Sean Dyche and Eddie Howe both in charge since 2012.

The remaining seven have averaged 3.8 managers in that time, with six for Sunderland and seven for Watford.

With the increasingly rapid turnover of managers in the modern game, it is far easier to spend money on the individual brilliance of a striker of midfielder to get you out of trouble, than it is to blend together a defensive unit, which takes time. And that’s a luxury clubs fighting against the drop don’t have.

Plus, with the enhanced financial clout of the Premier League this season, it’s easier than ever to splash out on a striker.

Swansea’s £15m on Borja Baston, and Crystal Palace’s £27m on Christian Benteke are evidence of that.

That’s certainly the case for sides looking to fight it out in the bottom half of the table.

But the pressure-cooker lifestyle of a relegation fight isn’t the only reason for this season’s Premier League goalfest.

Gegenpressing doesn’t immediately produce a great defensive record

No team have seen more goals in their games this season than title-chasing Liverpool, with the Reds averaging 3.8 per game.

Like Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp’s wish for a goalkeeper and back-four boasting better talents on the ball, as opposed to traditional defensive qualities, is proving difficult to master on British shores.

And the two coaches’ high-pressing games have come at a price. The players they are working with are simply not used to such a style of play and the systems at the Etihad and Anfield have yet to be perfected.

In time, both coaches will find the players to suit their systems, and their defensive lapses will decrease. But for now, both Liverpool and City remain painfully exposed, as we have seen in recent weeks.

It’s worth noting too, that of the Premier League’s top-six sides whose games have seen the most goals, two are high-pressing distribution hopefuls Liverpool and Man City, while three are Crystal Palace, West Ham, and Swansea.

That trio have seen plenty of managerial changes in recent seasons, leading to a lack of stability and no time to blend in any sort consistent defence.

All of this tells you why this season’s Premier League is on course to be the highest-scoring campaign in history.

A combination of bold managers struggling to infiltrate the Premier League with a new style of football, plus money-laden sides desperately hoping to score their way out of trouble thanks to an abundance of money, and time-tight boardrooms who won’t allow a gaffer the chance to build a consistent back-line.

But right now, for Premier League fans around the world, it means more, more moments of magic, more unpredictability and more sporting drama.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Richard Marsh

Richard loves his sport, especially if it involves the sound of tyres screaming around a race track. He's not fussy though and his '90s Premier League nostalgia and knowledge of team nicknames is tough to match.