Football

Defence forgotten in Premier League's new era?

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Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2. Tottenham Hotspur 1 Manchester City 5. Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6. Chelsea 3 Arsenal 5. Manchester City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2. And now this...Chelsea 3 Manchester United 3.

A collection of just some of this season's scorelines between the so-called Premier League powerhouses, producing more goals than I have had mildly warm pies while stood on the terraces in years gone by.

It appears that the days of water-tight defences - that for so long a club's title ambitions relied heavily upon - are now a thing of the past. An unfashionable approach in today's English top-flight that has become predictable only in its unpredictability.

In this new world of free-scoring frenzies, the over-zealous mantra of 'We'll score more than you', looks to have been adopted by clubs right across the division as a number of different goalscoring records have been broken since the start of 2011-12.

Premier League leaders Manchester City took just 16 games to notch 50 goals, breaking Arsenal's 19-game record set in 2009-10, a season that the Gunners could only manage a third place finish. Roberto Mancini will be hoping to better that with his star-studded line-up at the Etihad Stadium this year.

The most recent example of another epic goal-fuelled encounter also produced a new record, albeit an unwarranted one. After heading into a 3-0 lead at Stamford Bridge at the weekend, Chelsea were been pegged back from a three-goal advantage at home for the first time.

It's the second time this season that Chelsea have scored three against one of English football's Champions League elite, and on neither occasion have they ended up winning.

The question is, what has happened to Premier League defences this season? Have they simply been overrun by the sheer quality of the forwards deployed at the elite clubs.

It's fair to say that the likes of Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero, Robin van Persie, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and Demba Ba, helped by a supporting cast that includes Javier Hernandez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Edin Dzeko, Didier Drogba and Jermain Defoe, has enough firepower to frighten any defence the world over.

Too much to contain? Perhaps. But in a new era where the attacking onslaught seemingly overwhelms, the 'gung-ho' approach that is being deployed by a growing number of Premier League managers has only added to problems at the back.

Arsenal have suffered something of an injury crisis at the back this campaign - Arsene Wenger spending months without a recognised full-back available for selection - but even when the Gunners have a clean bill of health, their defensive frailties are still alarming.

Chelsea's marauding defender David Luiz has offered little help in tightening the Blues' increasingly leaky back line, resulting in the January addition of Gary Cahill as Andre Villas-Boas looks to further strengthen.

Meanwhile, Manchester United have their own concerns, with Nemanja Vidic ruled out for the remainder of the campaign, and Rio Ferdinand looking a shadow of the player who once commanded the Red Devils' defence so gracefully.

The likes of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have so far provided little reassurance for Sir Alex Ferguson that he has long-term replacements for the old guard already at his disposal at Old Trafford.

Tottenham have played the most attractive brand of football the Premier League has seen this season, but their array of free-flowing attack-minded football has also come at a cost.

Early season humblings against both Manchester clubs are but a distant memory, so impressive has Spurs' form been, but their naivety in the recent defeat at the hands of leaders City served as a gentle reminder, and effectively ended their title challenge this year.

The obvious omission from the aforementioned list of leading Premier League clubs is Liverpool, for their problems lie not in defence, rather at the opposite end of the pitch. Swimming against the tide this season, Kenny Dalglish has identified the quality of his side's defending as instrumental in their challenge for a top-four finish.

While they may hold one of the best defensive records in the league, the Reds' goalless draw against Tottenham at Anfield on Monday typifies the problems that have resulted in the club falling off the pace in the race for the Champions League.

Liverpool may have the Premier League's bluntest attack, but at least they have remembered the principles on which success is historically built.

It remains to be seen how they will fare this campaign, in the league that defending forgot.

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Premier League

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