Should Relegation Threatened Clubs Attack Or Defend?
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Is it better for a relegation threatened club to attack or defend? Today on the blog Amit Singh from Think Football considers the question taking a look at recent relegation victims and this season's prime candidates for the drop.
During the transfer window relegation threatened clubs seem to be constantly linked with attacking players. For example, QPR, despite having a plethora of forwards, have been linked with Loic Remy and Peter Odenwingie.
The logic behind this is that you NEED goals to survive in the Premier League. But does this logic ring true? Or would QPR be better off investing in new defenders? Blackpool scored 55 goals in 2010/11, the 8th highest total that season, but went down, having conceded 78, the highest total, does this suggest that defence is superior to offence?
Clean Sheets Versus Goals
2010/11 is a good place to start the examination, as a result of Blackpool, but also Birmingham, who defended rigidly but still got relegated. Of the top three sides to concede goals that season, two of them went down; Blackpool and West Ham. West Brom were the other side, but they stayed up in 11th, having scored 56, one more than Blackpool, as well as conceding seven fewer than Blackpool which made the difference.
|Team||Goals Against||League Position|
Last season the bottom four, were the four sides to concede the most goals, in that order:
|Team||Goals Against||League Position|
As a means of comparison, the bottom three clubs in terms of goals scored were, Stoke (14th), Villa (16th) and Wolves (20th) in that order. In fact, Wolves are the only club who were relegated out of the eight teams who scored the least amount of goals last season. Blackburn and Bolton both did well in goal scoring, scoring the 10th and 12th highest totals respectively. This arguably implies that defending is more important than attacking if a side wants to stay up.
Transfer Policy Of Last Season’s Relegated Teams
To be fair to Bolton, they purchased a striker in January (Sordell) as well as a defender, Tim Ream. But, they lost Gary Cahill to Chelsea, which was a major blow as he was by far the side's best defender; his loss was certainly a contributory factor to their relegation. More so than the failure of N'Gog and Sordell to get firing.
The damning thing for Wolves and Blackburn was that they signed Roger Johnson and Scott Dann respectively. The pair were formidable at Birmingham and were touted to do well at their new clubs. The thing is, they should have been signed as a pair, failure to do so exposed their flaws and unfortunately led to real underachievement.
Wolves also brought Bassong in on loan in January, suggesting that McCarthy was aware of the problems. Although, as noted Wolves had problems in an attacking sense too, as the league’s third lowest goal scorers.
A Question Of Tactics
Perhaps managers of relegation teams are just far too aggressive and these tactics have contributed to their struggles in the Premier League. Below I have attempted to assess some indicators of attacking tactics:
|Rank||Club||Shots Per Game||League Finish|
Above is a ranking of sides in terms of the fewest shots on goal from last season, a rough (and not massively accurate) indicator of attacking tactics. Stoke were conservative with 9.9 shots per game and finished 14th.
Bolton and Wolves were arguably a bit too aggressive with their efforts on goal and might have been better served looking for a more compact, Stoke-esque system in order to survive.
Above is a look at a side’s possession for last season. With regards to Wolves and Bolton they both had 'decent' amounts of possession for a relegation threatened side, but were relegated regardless. The will to use the ball, rather than get men behind it arguably cost the sides. Perhaps like Stoke, they'd have been better off relinquishing possession and playing to their strengths in order to survive.
Lessons to be learned?
Wigan is a curious case right now. The club actively try to play the ball with about 53% possession per game and a high number of short passes. The result of this attempt to play expansive football has led to high levels of praise in the press but has not served the side well on the pitch, with the club sitting 17th, only above Villa (18th) on goal difference. Arguably a re-assessment of their tactics and a more conservative approach would bear fruit for Wigan. Although, this is clearly at odds with their mentality.
That being said, Southampton have been relatively expansive this season and are currently in 15th, two points off the relegation places with a game in hand. Further to this, the two sides to score the least amount of goals this season are Villa, (18th place) and QPR (20th). This arguably suggests that there has been a shift this season.
Although, at the same time, the three teams to concede the most goals are three of the bottom four clubs in the Premier League. In fact, the five teams who have conceded the most make up league positions 19-15. QPR are the only exception, having improved slightly in a defensive regard with two back to back clean-sheets in recent weeks.
Defensive tactics are probably under-rated by relegation threatened teams. Scoring goals and playing a more expansive brand of football is admirable and will win plaudits, but it won't guarantee safety, as Blackpool can testify to. Wigan's demise is indicative of this, with the club dangerously close to the bottom of the league.
The evidence provided is of course only partially useful, but it is interesting, given perceptions of sides styles of play. A conservative approach is certainly too often over-looked by managers trying to keep their sides in the Premier League. Perhaps the horrible brand of football played by McLeish at Birmingham has put people off this style, as not only were the side relegated but their fans were left increasingly frustrated by the quality of football played.
Like anything in football a balance is probably required in order to remain in the Premier League.
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If you look at the masters of getting out of relegation then look no further to Roy Hodgson and Harry Redknapp, they do it best and if you incorporate the simplistic of organizing to defend and then attack then that should help the team forward. It's all about fundmentals, you'll have to learn to defend then to attack. So both in this case if you are in the relegation situation.