Goals allowed

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.

15 thoughts on “Goals allowed

  1. Cheers Rich, these are all very valid points. The key is indeed balance, but you would like to think that the players can apply styles of playing to different moments in the game. The most recent frustration is surely that we’re conceding many goals very shortly after having put ourselves in a winning position – the last 3 away games are all testament to that, and indeed in two of them we really had 90 seconds or so to hold on. So you would assume that once we are leading, the midfield should be behaving in a slightly different fashion to when we are behind/going for a winner.

    There appears at the moment to be a slight element of ‘panic’ once we have a single goal lead between the defence and the midfield, and there must be some elements the coaching staff can work on, and hopefully are doing so.

    I’d be interested to see if Senderos comes back into the first team shortly too and your views on whether that might make a difference at all. Senderos feels more suited to Jol’s style of play than Aaron Hughes does – he’s more comfortable on the ball, quicker although both are very competent readers of the game. Traditionally I have always felt that Hughes was strong as the proverbial ox, thereby negating his lack of passing ability as it were, but in the past fortnight, Fellaini out muscled him (which, to be fair he is making a serious habit of) and then Giroud for the Arsenal first goal. Thus, with the number of concessions we’re making, I wonder if it is time to introduce the younger player back to the first XI to help the defensive shift?

  2. Following on from DaveB’s comment above, the Senderos angle is an interesting one. We know that Hughes is a covering defender rather than an aggressive one which is why he has dovetailed so well with Hangeland over the years. However, as he declines in a very attacking team, I wonder what would happen if we played the more aggressive Senderos in his place?

    Theoretically, we would be more exposed if we had two aggressive defenders, but the advantage would be, perhaps, less space between midfield and defence and a higher defensive line. Senderos is also a significantly better creator from defence.

    Could this be the way forward?

  3. Let’s put this into perspective. Last year we conceded 1.3 goals a match, this year 1.7. That’s an increase of just less than a goal every other match. I don’t think it’s anything too radical.

    We have a more attacking right back this year and we’ve lost Dempsey’s defensive solidity on the left. The end result is, we’re more vulnerable down the flanks than we used to be (I have noticed anything to suggest that we’re more vulnerable through the middle). As a result, we appear to be conceding more fouls on the corners of our penalty box and similarly permit more crosses from open play. Thus, our defenders have been subjected to more crosses than normal. More pressure = more goals.

    Not sure there’s anything we can do about Reither. He is what he is and his additional attacking threat is clearly helping, so that’s a trade-off we can live with. However, as I said in the comments to the last post and elsewhere, we can do something about our vulnerability on the left. We can either get in a proper replacement for Dempsey, or we can move Ruiz over there, playing Berba in the hole or buy in another Ruiz-type inside forward. Ruiz’s defensive contribution is at least equal to that provided by Duff, and it’s all we need from that role, in order to shore up that side of the pitch.

    1. really? That’s massive isn’t it? Another 15 goals a season. That’s probably quite a lot of points. A 15 goals +/- swing in goals conceded would effectively be the difference between contending for the big places and fighting relegation.

      1. No, I don’t think it’s massive.

        First, last year we scored 1.3 goals per match, and this year are scoring 2.2 goals per match. In other words, our scoring rate has gone up 69%, while the rate at which we concede has only gone up 31%. There’s been a huge net gain.

        Second, we’re talking less than a goal every other match. We’re not looking at something so radical that shows that our entire back line and goalkeeper are past it. I’ve really seen nothing to indicate that their performances levels have been any worse this year than last. The problem is not with the core of the defense, but as I’ve said with what’s happening on the wings. On the one hand, we have a more attacking right-back this year. On the other, we’ve lost the defensive protection that Dempsey provided on the left, and replaced it with the significantly below average defensive work from Kaca and Rodallega. Because of these two factors, our defense is under a hell of a lot more pressure from crosses than it was last year.

        Look at the stats for Hangeland and Hughes:

        [Key: T= Tackles, I = interceptions, F = Fouls, O = Offside, C = clearances, D = dribbled, B = Shots blocked, A = Aerial battles won.]

        Hangeland…..T……I……F…..O……C…..D……..B……..A
        2012/13…….0.9…..2….0.9…0.4…7.4…0.6…..0.9…..3.5
        2011/12…….1.4…2.1…0.7…1.1…6.9…0.3……1……..2

        Hughes……….T……I…….F…..O…….C……D…….B……..A
        2012/13……..0.4…2.3…0.3…0.5….9.4…..0……0.6…..3.1
        2011/12……..0.7….2…..0.3…0.8….5.5….0.4….0.7…..1.8

        What stands out? The huge increase is clearances and aerial battles (40% increase), and the slight decrease in interceptions and tackles (9% decrease), right? While it is a highly simplistic analysis, I think it is at the very least suspicious that our defenders are working 31% harder (40% increase in clearances and crosses – 9% decrease in interceptions and tackles), while at the same time, the rate at which we are conceding has gone up 31%

        And when you then think about what you actually see at the matches, it seems obvious to me that there must be some direct correlation here. Teams are bombarding us with crosses (whether from an increase in set plays or an increase in open play crosses, probably both) because they are getting more space on the right thanks to Reither attacking a lot more than Kelly did last year, and Riise getting virtually no defensive support from the likes of Kaca and Rodallega.

        The reason I don’t think this is massive is not only because we have more than offset the defense with attacking, but also because I think it is a partly solvable problem without waiting until January or the summer to make replacements. First, while Reither isn’t getting replaced anytime soon, we need someone on the left able to both attack and defend like Duff. Ruiz can do that. And we can play Berbatov in the No. 10 position behind one of Petric and Rodallega.

        Second, we need to start holding a higher line. Especially when we’re up (happening a lot more these days), the defenders keep going back into Hodgson backs-against-the-wall mode. Hughes has some pace. Schwarzer can read the game well and is a good shot stopper. A higher line can help us press opponents and keep them away from slinging crosses into the box. It will help.

      2. Also, the goal difference number is not static. If we keep scoring and conceding at the rate we are now, we will not end up with a +5 goal difference. We will end up with a +19 goal difference (83.6 goals scored vs 64.6 goals conceded). Top 5 goal differences last year (league placing in parentheses):

        Man City = +64 (1st)
        Man U = +56 (2nd)
        Arsenal = +25 (3rd)
        Spurs = +25 (4th)
        Chelsea = +19 (6th)

        (Newcastle finished 5th on +5)

        1. Your analysis seems pretty spot on here. I have two comments though:

          1) We have been dealing with more crosses, but why have Hughes and Hangeland’s ability to deal with them gone down so drastically? Under Hodgson we were supreme in the air, is it simply the quality of crossing has gone up because of less tight marking? Its probably a combination of both declining players and better crosses. Maybe it is time to look to Senderos (who is excellent in the air and very strong) to arrest any decline?

          2) The problem I have with moving Ruiz to the wing and Berbatov to the No.10 role is that this would seriously change our attacking play and whilst may make us more solid defensively, would more likely dramatically decrease the number of goals we score. Berbatov should be leading the line for us because not only is he most dangerous when he is in and around the opponents penalty area, he also takes a lot of pressure off of Ruiz as more than one defender has to mark him closely. Moving Ruiz to left wing would allow him to be throughly marked and moving Berbatov away from goal would reduce his danger to the opposition.

          The solution? Its a tough one. More training for Kaca and Richardson (although the latter probably doesnt need it) and more game time for Kaca will only see him improve. Remember it took a while for Dempsey to become the tracking back, hard working winger we saw at the end of his time at Fulham, so we should be patient with Kaca. Benching him and rejigging the entire team risks upsetting the great attacking unit we have built, and I would wager that building an attacking unit is more difficult than building a defensive one.

          1. On the first point, Hangeland and Hughes’ abilities to deal with crosses have not decreased. Look at the numbers. This year Hangeland has won 75% of his aerial battles (38/51) according to whoscored.com. Last year he won 70% (79/113). Last year Hughes won 59% (34/58), this year he has won 57% (34/60).

            They are just having to deal with more of them. Hangeland started all 38 matches last year, so he is the perfect exemplar of this. Last year he dealt with 113 aerial battles. This year, if the current rate continues (51 battles in 11 matches) he will have dealt with 176 aerial battles, a 56% increase. He’s actually doing better with them this year, (75% success rate as I say), but to deal with that increase, in order to lose only the same number of headers as he did last year (34) he would need to be successful 81% of the time. That’s too much to ask.

            So it’s not the quality of the crossing, nor the quality of Hangeland and Hughes that are at issue. Hughes and Hangeland have not declined at all from last year, and the same can probably be said of Schwarzer. It is simply the VOLUME of crosses that has resulted in the observed increase in failures. The problem is not in the middle, it’s on the wings.

            On the second point, I agree that the Berb has looked stronger up top. Other options are to play Petric behind Berb, Duff on the left wing, Dejegah on the left (assuming his defensive contribution is better than Rodallega and Kaca; though it could hardly be worse!). From what I’ve seen over the years of Richardson, he’ll never be the attacking force that we need. And from what I’ve seen of Kaca, no amount of training is going to get him to the level we need now. Next season, maybe. But if we want to resolve the solution now, we need to make tactical changes and/or wait until January to buy a proper Dempsey replacement.

              1. Thanks. Another interesting thing to note here is how teams are apparently targeting Hughes, who very clearly is worse at headers than Hangeland. Last year, the distribution was about even: Hangeland had 3.0 aerial battles a match, Hughes 3.2. This year, however, the distribution is 4.6 Hangeland, and 5.5 Hughes. Some of this may have been skewed by the Everton game in which Fellaini clearly “marked” Hughes. But given that we’re 11 matches in, probably not all.

                In case you are wondering, Senderos would probably not be much of a help, despite his height. As with Hughes, he was 57% successful with headers, although bizarrely, in 21 matches started (Hughes started 18), Senderos was only engaged in 14 such battles, winning 8. Does that mean that he runs away from such physical encounters? If so, he’d be much worse.

                1. Or alternatively when we play Senderos and Hangeland, opposition managers think it is not worth playing an aerial game and try to play through the defence?

        2. yep, I appreciate that. But it’s too variable to extrapolate like for like, especialyl with us playing such open football. Aything might happen between now and then, although of course the signs are good.

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