There has been much written over the course of the 2011/12 season so far as to the attacking potency of Manchester City. League leaders, they have by and large achieved this feat boasting an attack that leads the Premier League in goals scored (56) and in many key categories outlined in this post through the first twenty games (up to and including fixtures prior to the Tottenham v Everton game last Wednesday).
It is erroneous however to think that City’s success to date this season is built solely on this attacking threat. Looking at the goals conceded column of the Premier League table shows that City have the best defensive record in terms of goals conceded (16), and of late have been particularly miserly – conceding only the injury-time goal at Sunderland in the last five games:
But how much does this figure tell us? How do City compare to the Premier League in the key defensive areas?
Through 20 games, City goals conceded per game – as you would expect to be the case having conceded the least number of goals – is the lowest, conceding just 0.8 per game – lower even than the 2010/11 figure of 0.87 when they were widely considered far more of a defensive side:
So we know that City possess the top spot for both least number of goals conceded and average goals conceded per game, but taking this further we can see that as a defensive unit City are also amongst the leading sides in terms of being able to restrict opponents both in terms of chances allowed:
Whilst City trail only Chelsea and Everton in the category of chances allowed (both in total and averaged out per game), they are second only to United with regards to goals conceded per chances allowed:
City’s eight clean sheets this season also equates to shutting their opponents out 40% of the time – a figure that sees them third behind only Swansea (45%) and United (50%).
From a team perspective then, not only are City’s offensive numbers amongst the highest in the Premier League but from a defensive aspect they are also impressive. Not only are they able to stop the opposition scoring, but as a unit they are also able to nullify the threat of their opponents in terms of being able to create – a feat that will stand them in good stead over the course of the season.
Digging a little deeper into the defensive numbers, this recent post over at the excellent blog 11tegen11 and this post at Soccer by The Numbers analysed the impact in terms of the value of goals in the Eredivisie and Premier League respectively. They summised roughly that keeping a clean sheet was equivalent – in terms of points average – to scoring three goals.
City’s defence has been tight this season (we know keeping a clean sheet 40% of the time) and have not conceded in excess of two goals this season. The following graph, whilst limited in terms of data illustrates the respective points average in terms of each number of goals conceded:
Switching this slightly, we can also compare the above with the points average in terms of goals scored – which does at least provided a greater number of categories:
We have looked at some of the team numbers, but what of the players who comprise the defence?
The below chart shows the breakdown of individual stats in several key categories for all of the players who have featured for City in the Premier League this season:
Unsurprisingly, many of the key categories are led by Vincent Kompany, who has been a huge and consistent presence in the heart of City’s defence this season – and is already proving to be a player sorely missed as he serves a four game suspension.
Contrary to some of the thoughts around Roberto Mancini rotating the full-backs too often, it is also clear that in the Premier League Micah Richards and Gael Clichy are the prominent duo to feature – and with Clichy’s numbers well in excess of those from Aleksandar Kolarov. Interestingly, and whilst only making four starts this season, Kolo Toure’s presence has seen less goals and chances conceded but he does trail rival Joleon Lescott in other key defensive areas.
I have also looked at central defensive partnerships before over at Bitter and Blue, specifically looking at the comparison last season between the Vincent Kompany/Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany/Kolo Toure partnerships.
Expanding upon this a little to include the full back positions, we can see the breakdown of each of the different quartets to have played:
It is interesting to note that Mancini – either through circumstance or design – has gone to the Richards-Clichy-Kompany-Lescott defensive unit almost half of the games this season (six at home and three on the road), which no other quartet playing more than two games – but given the success that his preferred selection has had in all categories it is little wonder that he has tended to turn to them when he has been able to.
Until he went on International duty it was noticeable that Kolo Toure had gotten more playing time of late and in his four starts he has been part of three clean sheets, and after a delayed start to the season (after not being available until late September) it may have been that the Ivorian had just begun to force his way back into the reckoning.
It was always going to be a stretch to expect City to maintain the start they had to the season, and over the course of a long Premier League season with tough months ahead the defence was always going to have to play a large part if City were to sustain a title challenge.
A piece that I wrote earlier this season for EPL Index compared the starts that both City and United had posted and the conclusions in that still hold up. Whilst from an attacking sense many of the numbers were very similar between the two, but it was noticeable that there were some key differentials from a defensive aspect and in determining the outcome of the 2011/12 Premier League season it may well be this area that is the deciding factor.
If so, and as we head into the second half of the campaign, City can consider themselves well placed in that regard.