If you’ve been here for any time you know how much we look at Goal Difference as an evaluator of how a team is getting on.
Ours is quite good, +5. The fun thing, as noted in the comments below, is that we’re the highest scorers in the league. Less fun is how much we’ve conceded.
This is a tricky one to get your head around.
On the one hand, we must first state the golden rule of these things: goals for and against is not unrelated. A manager can always open up a team by commiting more men to attack, and shut things down by keeping men behind the ball.
Fact is, our goal difference is still within the realms of what is usually is (not quite true -it’s a bit better than it usually is, and indeed ever has been since the Roy renaissance, but we’ve played so few games that this isn’t really reliable). This suggests that rather than getting better, we’ve just changed the way we play.
People have talked about the soft goals we’ve conceded though, and this is of course true. But would it be realistic to expect us to keep out the soft goals while continuing to score shedloads? If you think we might have spared ourselves 5 goals, well that makes our GD +10 and places us squarely amongs Utd, City and Chelsea. That’s not realistic is it?
But it really does feel like our defence could have done better at times. Here are some things:
1) It simply must be a ‘balance’ of team issue to some extent. Even set pieces goals might count here – having lost the likes of Etuhu, Dempsey and Zamora, all of whom could contribute when we were under pressure, particularly aerially, perhaps we’re now a bit overrun at the back at set pieces.
2) Our defenders are not getting any younger. Hughes and Hangeland, being human, will have lost a little sharpness over the last four years. Not much, but in a way the team’s shift has come at the wrong time for them. Had Hodgson taken over now I doubt we’d have seen much slippage in their play, but there’s little doubt that our open play places greater strain on all of our defenders, and because they’re so good they’re coping with it.
3) I remember someone – Glenn Hoddle I think – saying that most goals are the result of two consecutive mistakes by the defence. Seems to me that the first mistake might be happening more in midfield now, so the defence have no margin for error. In years gone by that first mistake simply wouldn’t happen, so the defence wouldn’t be under anything like the same pressure, so the scope for consecutive mistakes just didn’t exist. Now it does.
4) Mark Schwarzer’s still in goal in his 40s because he’s fantastic. Even a 10% drop in form can be covered because he had such a high starting point. However, a drop in form is a drop in form, and probably contributes.
5) Presumably the team now practices different things. Maybe not as much defensive stuff.
6) Football is a game of moments, of inches. All of the above will probably add up, but probably between them they combine into a force more powerful than it looks. You look at Manchester United and they don’t have that many amazing players, but the players they have are all slightly better at most things than players at clubs like Fulham (our number 9 excepted). These tiny edges multiply out during a game like football. Going the other way, if the club has 4-5 small reasons why the defence is a bit more at risk, these will accumulate quickly and result in what we see now – goals going in against us. It’s fine, the defenders we have are as good as we’ve had probably, and even they must enjoy seeing the team attacking with such freedom, but we have to accept that goals are going to go in at our end.