EPL Defensive Index | Sunderland, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Fulham


The 2013/14 campaign has undoubtedly been the most competitive in last few years – with less than half a season left, there are still fierce battles being fought in both top and bottom of a table. It’s hard to make much out of a simple look at teams’ standings, as the point differences are small enough to make falling from 4th to 8th or soaring from 20th to 15th possible within just 3 game weeks’ time. Having said that, it seems like retaining a good goal difference may prove to be the difference between the failure and success for some of the Premier League teams.


This article and a few other pieces that will be published in the coming weeks, is an attempt to analyse all of Premier League teams’ defensive play in terms of both quality and quantity, as a good defensive record is obviously a part of achieving a decent goal difference. Let’s start our analysis with the teams that started this week in the biggest trouble, at least in terms of their standings in the league table.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge


The Black Cats’ start to the 2013/14 campaign is far from satisfying. After getting only one point from the first five games and having a fight with his own players, their manager Paolo Di Canio was sacked, with Gus Poyet taking his place. The managerial change didn’t help Sunderland much, though, as after twenty games they are still bottom of the league table, with only 14 points collected and 33 goals conceded.

At first glance, Sunderland’s tackle win % seems decent at 76%, it is slightly lower than the Premier League average of 77%, though. The good news is, the Black Cats doesn’t seem to be too error-prone, especially compared to the other teams featured in this article. They aren’t bad at keeping clean sheets compared to other relegation-endangered teams too, with five of their games so far ending without them allowing a goal.

When it comes to conceding a chances, Poyet’s side may find some consolation in the fact that only 7,94% of the chances their opponents create against them are clear-cut. With the average quality of a chance allowed being moderately low, Sunderland’s problem is the quantity of the chances they concede. Allowing your opponents to create 252 chances and 243 shots in 20 games is basically asking for trouble and even if they waste 86% of those chances, you are still conceding lots of goals.

The other Sunderland problem is the fact that their opponents convert a large percentage of all the clear-cut chances they manage to create. Being able to make sure that not too many of the opposite teams’ chances are the most dangerous ones is good. It’s impossible to keep them from creating any clear-cut chances, though, and you have to be prepared to face this kind of chance and stop the opposition players from converting them. Sunderland seem to have some problems dealing with that, as they concede 43% of all the clear-cut chances against them.

Aerially, there is some room for improvement for Poyet’s side. Winning 47% of their aerial 50-50’s, Sunderland may not look too bad compared to the other teams featured in this article, but on a league scale this ratio looks a bit poorer.  There is some good news though, as the Sunderland team allows only 41% of their opponents’ shots to be on target.

Of course, shooting accuracy and chance conversion stats are strongly dependant on opposition players’ form, but you have to take it into consideration that a good defending always makes it harder to take a proper shot, that’s why I’ve decided to include those stats.

West Ham

Even though they’ve started this season in a very bad way, collecting only one point more than Sunderland, the Hammers are the only one, of all the teams featured in this article, that didn’t sack their manager. West Ham’s owners remain faithful to Sam Allardyce even after recent rough run of form in domestic cups, during which the Londoners lost 5-0 to Nottingham Forrest and 6-0 to Manchester City.

Even though Allardyce’s team have conceded 3 fewer goals than Sunderland, their defensive stats don’t really look any better than those of the Black Cats. First, there is a tackle win percentage of 74%, which is the lowest of all the teams included in this article, and 3 % lower than the league average.

The Irons seem to be somewhat error-prone too, as they’ve committed 5 mistakes that ended up with opponents taking a shot, and 3 errors that ended up with West Ham conceding a goal. Big Sam’s players are also allowing their opponents to create slightly more chances than Poyet’s side does, but this time with more of them being clear-cut. Still it could be worse, at least in terms of quality of chances conceded, as 11,28% of all the chances Allardyce’s team concedes are clear-cut ones. It’s noticeably more than Sunderland’s ratio of 7,94%, but still better than all the other included teams with their ratios over 12%.

Aerially, they are doing slightly better than Sunderland, but not as good as Crystal Palace and still worse than many other Premier League teams (perhaps maybe Andy Carroll’s return could help them here, though). Finally, there’s an accuracy of all the shots taken against the Irons, which is the second worst of all the teams in the table above.

Some may wonder how did West Ham manage to actually concede fewer goals than Sunderland, while looking slightly worse than Poyet’s side so far in the comparison. Here comes an explanation of that and, finally, some good news for the Hammers’ supporters.

Firstly, Allardyce’s team is allowing it’s opponents to take slightly less shots than the Black Cats do. More importantly though, it seems that they’re doing a much better job while dealing with the chances they concede. With only 13% of their opponents’ chances, and 30% of clear-cut chances ending up with the Irons losing a goal, Big Sam’s team looks really good compared to other featured teams, as only Cardiff do better here. That ability to cope with the chances their opponents create seems to be the key to West Ham having conceded the second fewest goals of all the compared teams, with only Crystal Palace conceding less than Alardyce’s side. Finally, they were the ones to keep the most clean sheets in the comparison.

Crystal Palace

The Eagles are another team to lose their manager, as Ian Holloway resigned from his job in a London club in October, with Tony Pulis taking his place. Just like all the other teams that feature in this article, Palace have a lot to worry about, as the newly-promoted club started gameweek 21 in 17th place.

If you look at the Eagles’ defending it doesn’t really seem as bad as their league standing could make you think it is. As for the tackling, Pulis’ team matches the league average of 77%, so it seems decent, especially for a relegation-endangered team. They are also second in the error stats, as only Sunderland have made less defensive mistakes than Palace’s 4 leading to a shot and 2 ending up with an opposite team scoring.

The Eagles have managed to keep 5 clean sheets – the same as Sunderland and Cardiff, and two more than Fulham. Only West Ham’s 8 is better in the group of compared teams. Crystal Palace is by far the best team in the air, winning 54% of their aerial duels, they have also allowed their opponents to create the smallest amount of chances and take the least shots.

While looking good in terms of quantity, Palace has some big problems with the quality of the conceded chances. 12,87% of all the chances their opponents create are the clear-cut ones – no other team in that comparison looks so bad in this stat. The Eagles are also allowing opposite teams to convert 15% of all the chances they create – joint worst with Fulham. Perhaps another worrying thing is the shooting accuracy against Palace, which is only slightly better than West Ham’s.

It’s not all doom and gloom in terms of Pulis’ team’s defensive quality stats, as clear-cut chance conversion against them is on a decent level, which may not be as good as West Ham’s or Cardiff’s, but is still better than those of Sunderland and Fulham. Finally, let’s not forget that the Eagles are doing really well in terms of quantity, not allowing as many shots and chances as their table neighbours.


There has been a lot of fuss about the Bluebirds lately, with their eccentric owner, Vincent Tan, fighting a mini-war with manager Malky Mackay and dirty linen flying all over the club. Tan wanted Mackay to resign, but the man that led Cardiff to Premier League promotion last season refused to do so. In the end, it was the manager who lost, as Tan sacked Mackay and installed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in his place. An outcome of that managerial change is yet to be seen. Still, the Welsh team is in danger of getting relegated.

Winning 76% of their tackles, Cardiff are in a similar situation to Sunderland – they don’t look too bad in this comparison, yet they are still below the league average of 77%. They have committed 4 mistakes that have led to shot and 3 that ended up with an opposite team scoring, but it’s not that bad a result compared to other teams in the table above. Conceding 32 goals prior to the West Ham clash, Cardiff seem quite average compared to the rest of the group.

A brief look at the amount of chances that the Bluebirds allowed opposite teams to create and the shots fired against Solskjaer’s team doesn’t seem to give you too many optimistic thoughts. Only Fulham conceded more chances and clear-cut chances than Cardiff, and none of the compared teams allowed more shots than the Welsh side. They are also the weakest team aerially, and the big proportion of all the chances they concede are the clear-cut ones.

There is also some good news, though. Despite allowing their opponents to create many chances, Cardiff players are doing really well when dealing with those attempts. Both chance conversion and clear-cut chance conversion against them are the lowest of all the featured teams, with the latter stat being a really good 26%. The shooting accuracy stat seems like another positive for the Bluebirds’ supporters, as only the Sunderland team made taking a shot on target harder for their opponents.


The last of the clubs featured in this article is no different than the most of the others – The Cottagers have also fired their manager after a poor start to the new season, with Rene Maulensteen replacing Martin Jol at the beginning of December.

Despite achieving the best tackle success ratio of all the teams in this article – 80%, which is 3% higher than the league average, Fulham seem to be performing the worst in terms of their defensive play. They are the most error-prone side, committing 8 mistakes that ended up with a shot and 6 that led to them conceding a goal. No other team in this article did so badly in this stat.

Conceding the most goals and keeping the least clean sheets, there is a lot of work that needs to be done in Fulham. The Londoners allowed their opponents to create more chances than any other team in the table above. With 12.37% of those chances being clear-cut, only Crystal Palace did worse in terms of the quality of conceded chances, and with Fulham’s opponents taking 271 shots, only Cardiff allowed more. Just like Sunderland, Fulham need some improvements aerially, too.

Unfortunately, there is more bad news for the Cottagers, as Maulensteen’s players are allowing their opponents to have the biggest shot on target percentage of all the teams included in this piece. Fulham are also joint worst with Crystal Palace when it comes to chance conversion against them, and the second-worst team in terms of clear-cut chance conversion against them, with only Sunderland allowing their opponents to convert more of the clear-cut chances.

With the impressive tackle success ratio being the only positive of their defensive play, the Cottagers are going to have some serious problems winning the battle to avoid relegation if everything stays this way. There is a huge room for improvement and making Fulham more solid at the back should be one of Maulensteen’s priorities.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here