Do Defenses Really Win Titles? I Don’t Think So


I keep reading how its defenses that win titles. Do they? I have a contrary view. I mean, if it’s goals that win games then surely it must be attacks that win titles.

Okay, I understand that goals conceded can cost games and hence titles, and so having a great defense can help avoid that. But still, keeping goals out doesn’t in itself win games. You still need to score at the other end, as Greece – the most defensive Euro champions ever – managed to do through out their triumphant 2004 campaign.

People point to Fabio Capello’s Milan team of the early 1990s as a prime example of a defense winning titles. And they were parsimonious, letting in just 21 goals in 34 games to win Scudetto in 1992. Yet, it’s worth noting that Torino, who finished 3rd, let in just 20 goals that season. Milan’s title probably had more to do with the league leading 74 goals they plundered that season.

Of course, Milan did win another title two years later on the back of a meager 36 goals scored in 34 games! That year, they let in a ridiculous 15 goals, and it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t their defense that won them that title.

But that seldom happens and I suppose it all comes down to balance. Yet it’s much more common to blame a team’s “poor defense”  for their lack of success, than it is to blame a lack of goals. Just as a 1-0 win is somehow deemed more praiseworthy – you know, the clean sheet – than a 5-3 win.

Liverpool fell short of the title in 2013/14, something many attribute to the 50 goals they conceded that year. Yet, the fact that they scored 101 goals – its goal difference that counts, right? – should have made up for that. After all, Rafa Benitez’s 2008/09 side let in just 27 goals but fell short too, despite scoring 77.

Can’t blame the defense for that. And, I’ll admit, it’s a little weird to slate an attack that scored more than any other club that season. But if they’d scored a few more…?

Conceding lots of goals need not be fatal – if enough goals are scored on the other end – just as a lack of goals can be mitigated by solid defending.

I’d wager scoring goals is more important, but it’s the balance that counts.

And winning points, of course.

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