Manchester United: How the Reds Are Leading the EPL's Offensive Revolution

Jake NisseFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2013

WIGAN, ENGLAND - JANUARY 01:  Robin Van Persie of Manchester United celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Manchester United at DW Stadium on January 1, 2013 in Wigan, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Long renowned for its toughness and grittiness, the English style of play has always required maximum strength and defensive ability from its participants.

But who said the EPL is strictly English-style football anymore?

With the recent influx of South American and Western European (Italy, France, Spain, Portugal) players, England's top league has evolved into being much more offensively-minded. As players from all over the world are arriving in the EPL, they are bringing their soccer culture, which often consists of tricky feet, crossing prowess and speed—things that weren't seen as often out of native English players.

As it has absorbed the cultures of its non-English players, the EPL has become offensively fueled, with teams no longer needing an elite back line to find success.

The prime example in this argument has to be league leaders Manchester United, who have a mediocre 10th-best goals-against total so far. However, they find themselves at the top of the table despite their shaky defense—and because of a league-best (by a mile) 54 goals. While their last two wins have come without conceding a goal, the theme of their season so far has been winning in shootouts, such as a 4-3 thriller over Newcastle, or 3-2 wins against Manchester City, Aston Villa, Southampton and Fulham.

But they're not the only sign of the league's ongoing transformation.

Many teams, such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, have adopted formations with attacking midfielders—(usually) central playmakers who also have an eye for goal. The high demand for players who play in this position is shown by hefty transfer fees, such as the one that Southampton paid for Uruguayan starlet Gastón Ramírez. To acquire the ex-Bologna man, Southampton, one of the EPL's smallest clubs, had to break their club record transfer fee of £11 million. With this move Southampton clearly showed that offense was their priority, following an ever-growing trend: you can't win without a playmaker.

In addition for the high demand of attacking midfielders, the demand for technically skilled wing-backs has vastly risen. These wing-backs have been asked to greater contribute on offense, requiring them to be able to cross, beat players, and occasionally score when the chance presents itself. Wing-backs such as Ashley Cole, Patrice Evra, and Leighton Baines (who recently scored this amazing free kick) have found success largely for their attacking abilities. It is becoming clear that the stereotypical slow, clumsy defender is not the mold of the future.

Finally, the numbers tell the story in that the top six in the EPL table are also the top six in goals scored:

1. Manchester United  G: 54                     Pts: 52

2. Manchester City      G: 41                       Pts: 45

3. Tottenham Hotspur  G: 39                      Pts: 39

4. Chelsea                  G: 39                        Pts: 38

5. Everton                   G: 35                      Pts: 36

6. Arsenal                   G: 40                      Pts: 34

With the EPL's foreign influx, the emphasis on offensive and technical ability is becoming larger, while the idea of a team winning solely with strong defensive play is dwindling, and fast. The common conception of soccer being boring is becoming inaccurate (in the EPL, at least), as it is becoming increasingly difficult for teams to win with a one-goal outing.

Instead, teams are more often winning in shootouts, as there have been six separate EPL hat-tricks so far, and the goals per game average has steadily increased over the past four years. This is making the game more exciting and more marketable. Maybe that's why NBC Sports decided to spend $250 million on EPL rights.

Not everyone likes change.

But clearly, it's working for the EPL.