What is a Premier League goal worth?
Background photo: Aundrup
Goals win games; defence wins titles. Recently, the adage metamorphosed into an argument on how to play the game rather than the intended lesson in maintaining a proper tactical balance. Keeping clean sheets is important. Opponents can’t beat you without scoring. Nor can you beat them without potting at least one yourselves. No club will ever go through a campaign procuring 38 [or 46] 1-0 results in succession. Scoring and defending are two sides of the same coin.
The table proves as much. As the season winds down, goals and points tend to settle into a 1:1 ratio. To accumulate 100 points like Manchester City did last season, roughly 100 goals must be scored. City managed 106. At the other end, West Brom finished bottom on 31 points. They scored 31 goals.
Swansea and Stoke followed the Baggies into the Championship in 2017/18, each finishing with 33 points. The Swans potted just 28 goals while the Potters fittingly did better, claiming 35. Their respective defences brought the teams into alignment. The Welsh club conceded 12 fewer goals  than the Staffordshire outfit.
The table was confirming each club’s merit if you will. The roughly 1:1 goal to points ratio isn’t steadfast, however. There are a few aberrations each season. Those reveal which clubs push their luck or could work more on defending in training.
In 2017/18, Burnley pushed their luck. Sean Dyche’s side scored only 36 goals while gathering 54 points and finishing seventh. One-and-a-half points for every goal is an astounding return in Premier League football. Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United finished second with 81 points from 68 goals. When points accumulated exceed goals scored by double digits, the gods are smiling on your club. That's evident in the manner in which both sides fell down the table this season.
Obviously, both Burnley and United played exceptional defence although United fans will tell you David de Gea bailed his mates out more often than not. Neither club won a title, however. On the other hand, Chelsea pulled 70 points from 62 goals and claimed the FA Cup.
On the opposite side of the ledger, West Ham scored 48 goals but only found 42 points. Surrendering 68 pushed them further down the table than several clubs who both scored and shipped fewer goals. Further up the table, Liverpool ended the season in fourth, garnering only 75 points for their 84 goals. They reached the Champions League final but Loris Karius’ misery proved just how important keeping the opponent off the scoresheet truly is.
Jurgen Klopp learned the lesson. This season, Mo Salah isn’t threatening to break scoring records. The Egyptian hasn’t quite reached 20 for the campaign with four games remaining although his worldie against Chelsea on the weekend, a laser from 30+ yards to Kepa’s left that found the far upper 90, proved he still has it. Despite scoring a mere 77 goals, the Reds’ 85 points put them just above defending Champions City. It's better to score slightly, though only slightly fewer goals while tightening up at the back than to throw everything at opponents and caution to the winds.
Pep Guardiola’s side are a slightly less incredible metronome, this term, but still keep perfect time, ticking 86 goals and 83 points in a consistent fashion while holding a game in hand on the Merseysiders. Winning out their remaining five contests retains the title on 98 points. Expect them to score a century for the second season running as well.
Anchoring the table, relegated Huddersfield’s paltry 19 goals yielded an even scanter 14 points. That said, the poster children for defensive imbalance are Bournemouth. Eddie Howe’s Cherries plucked 49 goals in their first 34 games. Porous defending yielded 61, allowing them to register just 41 points, a poor value on their goal return. They are this season's West Ham. That said, the South Coast club sit just a point behind the Hammers who are only marginally better at the back in 2018/19.
On the other side of that coin, Wolves and Liverpool emulate Burnley and Manchester United as overachievers this session. Each is producing more points per goal, lifting them further up the table than one would expect. Wolves fans on social media voice anticipation of matching Manchester City’s ascension in coming seasons. Maybe they should worry more about falling back to Earth in 2019/20 as the Clarets have in the current campaign.
Individually, a club’s significant deviation from the 1:1 norm indicates they should be doing better or worse than they are. Collectively, the clusters in the scattershot graph depict the difference between sides.
City and Liverpool stand out within the top six while the elite sextet’s superior quality over the rest of the league is also distinct. The upper right quadrant belongs to them. The other 14 clubs inhabit the lower left. Their positions on either side of the trending line indicate the title race isn't between two ruthless attack sides. Rather it's the age-old debate between attacking and defending playing out yet again.
Chelsea's proximity to the centre indicates the Blues are the least likely of the four sides contesting a Champions League place to finish in the top four, with United, Tottenham and Arsenal more tightly grouped. On the other hand, they're in the same place as Wolves, scoring too few goals to warrant their current position but somehow able to keep producing results. While Maurizio Sarri is on a pace to produce two more goals this season as Chelsea boss than Antonio Conte did last and record four more points for that minimal improvement., that's an insignificant difference. You could say the similarity between their two Stamford Bridge campaigns is striking considering their polarised tactics even though striking is the Achilles heel from which both suffer.
Most telling, perhaps, is that Newcastle and Fulham should both be more involved in the fight for survival than they are. Newcastle may be lucky to have lifted themselves above the fray but when you compare Rafa Benitez's managerial chops to Scott Parker, Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri, you might conclude Toon's luck is having the Spaniard in the dugout. A manager who can do more with less can render statistical trends meaningless.
What does all this prove? Quite simply, it illustrates the true meaning behind ‘goals win games; defence wins titles’. You can choose to play positively or negatively. It doesn’t matter. Whichever you choose, you must score and defend in near-perfect balance to come out on top.