English Premier League: Predicting the Least-Conceding Defenses This Season
It may still be early in the new Premier League season, but there is already so much to discuss.
One thing is clear: there have been an astonishing number of defensive errors and generally poor play at the back.
The EPL is usually viewed as one of the leagues with the best defenses, but that hasn't been apparent in the opening weeks of the new campaign. Many sides that are known for strong defense have been shaky at the back and have allowed more goals than they should have.
With that in mind, here's my list of which teams will concede the most/least amount of goals this season...
20. Norwich City
Goals Conceded Last Season: 58 in Championship
Defensive Lineup: Ruddy, De Laet, Naughton, Tierney, Barnett (Ayala, Whitbread, Martin)
It's hard to choose which team will be last on this list, but I pick newly promoted Norwich City.
The Canaries conceded 58 goals in the Championship last year, more than 25 over QPR's tally, and that certainly does not bode well for their new campaign in the EPL.
Norwich have started their season with confidence and have allowed a fairly minimal seven goals in five games.
However, matches against the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea can increase the goals-conceded table (though Chelsea only scored three against Norwich in Week 3).
Predicted Goals Conceded: 74
19. West Bromwich Albion
Goals Conceded Last Season: 71
Defensive Lineup: Foster, Tamas, Shorey, Olsson, Jara (Mattock, McAuley, Jones)
West Bromwich had a great start to life in the Premier League last season after being promoted to the top flight. With some great results against top clubs and good performances coming on a constant basis, the Baggies hovered in the top 10 during the first half of the season.
But, as always seems to happen for newly promoted clubs, the results started worsening, and WBA began to slide down the table. Fortunately for them, they picked up their form near the end of the season and finished in a praiseworthy 11th place, despite conceding a staggering 71 goals.
Albion very much relied on scoring goals last year. And they will do the same this campaign.
The Baggies simply don't have a good defense, but if they can score as many goals as last term, then they can do well once again this year.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 72
18. Blackburn Rovers
Goals Conceded Last Season: 59
Defensive Lineup: Robinson, Samba, Dann, Olsson, Salgado (Givet, Hanley, Nelsen)
Blackburn Rovers have already conceded 10 times this season, but it should be said that three of them came in Blackburn's 4-3 victory over Arsenal. That win against the Gunners will help the Rovers gain some confidence and lift pressure off Steve Kean.
But the truth remains that Blackburn haven't impressed at the back in the beginning of the season. The purchase of Scott Dann will most likely pay off, but Kean will have to hope that his defense can perform well enough to survive the drop.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 71
17. Wigan Athletic
Goals Conceded Last Season: 61
Defensive Lineup: Al-Habsi, Caldwell, Figueroa, Stam, Boyce (Van Aanholt, Alcaraz, Piscu)
Wigan Athletic were lucky to avoid relegation last season and will probably have the same trouble this campaign. The Latics didn't concede a host of goals (61), at least compared to their relegation rivals, but had so much trouble scoring (only 40 goals).
The emergence of Franco Di Santo may help Wigan score more goals this year, but Wigan's defense will be an issue. The Latics had some luck on their side last season, but Roberto Martinez knows that his team needs to play better to stay up this time around.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 68
16. Bolton Wanderers
Goals Conceded Last Season: 56
Defensive Lineup: Jaaskelainen, Cahill, Knight, Steinsson, Robinson (Boyata, Ricketts, Mears)
Bolton Wanderers have conceded a massive 13 goals so far this season, though it should be stated that they have still conceded fewer than Arsenal. A poor first five matches for the Wanderers leave them in 19th place with three points.
The first game looked bright for Owen Coyle's side with a 4-0 away win against Queens Park Rangers. But things have really turned against Bolton, and four losses leave them in the relegation zone.
Coyle will certainly need to shape his team, especially his defense.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 65
15. Swansea City
Goals Conceded Last Season: 42 in Championship
Defensive Lineup: Vorm, Monk, Williams, Caulker, Rangel (Taylor, Tate, Halliche)
Swansea City became the first-ever Welsh team to achieve promotion to the English Premier League when they won the Championship playoff last May.
Many people feared the worst for the newcomers, who were adjudged to have a squad that would be unable to survive the harshness of the top flight.
The Swans have been one of the early surprises in the first five games of the season. They have picked up five points so far and have been praised for their great team performances. The Welsh side were especially applauded for their showing against Arsenal two weeks ago (even though they lost 1-0).
Despite Swansea's great start to life in the EPL, it's hard to see them maintaining their form throughout the year. Michel Vorm has been great so far (except against Arsenal) and has got his team out of trouble countless times already. Brendan Rodger's side can't keep relying on their keeper if they want to avoid relegation.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 63
14. Queens Park Rangers
Goals Conceded Last Season: 32 in Championship
Defensive Lineup: Kenny, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Hall, Young (Shittu, Traore, Connolly)
Queens Park Rangers had a great summer transfer window with the purchases of Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jay Bothroyd, and others.
The reigning Championship League winners didn't make the mistake of only targeting attacking players over the summer, as they also acquired Danny Gabiddon, Anton Ferdinand, and Luke Young to bolster their defense.
And that was a defense that was already good, one that had allowed just 32 goals last season. Of course, that was the Championship League, and the Premier League is much harder.
I do think that the Rangers will do well this year, and the investments of millionaire Tony Fernandes will help dramatically.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 62
13. Aston Villa
Goals Conceded Last Season: 59
Defensive Lineup: Given, Dunne, Collins, Hutton, Warnock (Clark, Cuellar, Lichaj)
Aston Villa have lost their status as Champions League spot challengers in recent years. Nowadays, the Villans are more of a selling club and seem to be happy with mid-table positioning.
The losses of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing will hurt this season, but the purchases of Jermaine Jenas (on loan) and Charles N'Zogbia will help cover the reduction.
However, Villa's defense hasn't changed too much, which is good, apart from the bargain buy of Shay Given and the loan of Alan Hutton.
Villa's defense should be strong this year.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 60
12. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Goals Conceded Last Season: 66
Defensive Lineup: Hennessey, Johnson, Ward, Stearman, Berra (Elokobi, Foley, Zubar)
Wolverhampton somehow avoided relegation last year, securing 17th place on the final day. This season looks set to be a little bit more promising for Mick McCarthy's men.
Despite their disappointing 3-0 loss to QPR over the weekend, Wolves look much stronger in defense and could make Molineux a fortress this year.
The purchase of Roger Johnson (who is now captain) and the improved performances of other defenders, namely Stephen Ward, will help tremendously. I expect Wolves to concede under 60 goals this campaign.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 59
Goals Conceded Last Season: 56
Defensive Lineup: Mignolet, Brown, Bramble, Richardson, Bardsley (O'Shea, Turner, Angeleri)
Sunderland's decision to buy Wes Brown at a cheap price already looks to be paying off. The former Manchester United man has impressed since his summer move and could be one of the defenders of the year.
The Black Cats had a great first half of last season, hovering in the Europa League positions, before they embarked on a ridiculous losing streak (or non-winning streak) that could have resulted in relegation.
Sunderland have a strong defense and feel that they can finish in the top 10 this year.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 57
Goals Conceded Last Season: 45
Defensive Lineup: Howard, Distin, Jagielka, Baines, Coleman (Hibbert, Heitinga, Mustafi)
Everton may be the most unpredictable Premier League club at the moment. It's difficult to tell how well the Toffees will do this year.
Last season, they were floating around the relegation zone until February but they ended up finishing in 7th place. Everton's defense was usually very solid, and it was their attacking play that often disappointed.
This campaign, it has been closer to the opposite. Despite only conceding four goals so far in the league (not an outrageous number), the Toffees defense has been all over the place at times.
Everton's attacking play has been lacking creativity this season, but David Moyes will be pleased that his team are still producing goals. He will mainly be concerned about his defense.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 53
Goals Conceded Last Season: 43
Defensive Lineup: Schwarzer, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise, Senderos (Baird, Grygera, Kelly)
Fulham are the only team in the EPL who haven't won a game this season. Three ties and two losses (league) isn't a great start for new manager Martin Jol.
However, the comeback against Manchester City over the weekend and a good performance at Chelsea on Wednesday will have made fans happy.
The Cottagers were one of the better defensive sides last year, but it will be tougher this season. Teams have already exposed some of Fulham's weak spots, and I don't think this season will end up being as good as the previous few.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 52
Goals Conceded Last Season: 43
Defensive Lineup: Szczesny, Vermaelan, Mertesacker, Sagna, Santos (Djourou, Koscielny, Gibbs)
At the beginning of the season, I wouldn't have placed Arsenal so low on this list. That was before Manchester United scored eight times against the Gunners.
After five rounds of the Premier League season, Arsene Wenger's team have conceded a crazy 14 goals.
I don't see Arsenal being battered too many times this season, but they will at least allow 40 goals this campaign. The signing of Per Mertesacker will help, but the Gunners' defense will remain fairly weak.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 49
7. Tottenham Hotspur
Goals Conceded Last Season: 46
Defensive Lineup: Friedel, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Corluka (Dawson, Bassong, Walker)
Tottenham have already conceded eight goals this season but are starting to show that they should be considered top four contenders.
Their 4-0 win against Liverpool displayed Spurs at their very best, coming just three weeks after Manchester City defeated Tottenham 5-1 at White Hart Lane.
Harry Redknapp has seen bad defensive displays this season and will hope Michael Dawson can make a fast return to the starting lineup.
It'll also be interesting to see if the North London side bid for Gary Cahill in January.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 47
6. Newcastle United
Goals Conceded Last Season: 57
Defensive Lineup: Krul, Coloccini, Taylor, Taylor, Simpson (Perch, Santon, Williamson)
Newcastle may have conceded a lot goals last season (especially for a 12th-place team), but the club scored almost as many (56). Unlike other teams that allowed over 50 goals, the Toon ended up with only a -1 goal difference.
Many people would have expected Newcastle to purchase defensive reinforcements in the summer. But the Magpies only signed Santon from Inter Milan, and it appeared (at the beginning of this season) that the Toon would have a poor year defensively.
However, the start of the campaign has seen Newcastle give up just two goals in five matches. This may not mean too much right now, but I can see them allowing less than 50 goals this season.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 45
Goals Conceded Last Season: 44
Defensive Lineup: Reina, Carragher, Agger, Johnson, Enrique (Coates, Skrtel, Kelly)
It's been clear for some time that Liverpool have defensive issues. For the last two seasons, the Reds have been not only poor in the back but also everywhere else.
The start to this campaign has seen a much better Liverpool team, but one that still has big problems in defense.
Kenny Dalglish drastically changed the Liverpool lineup over the summer, and the transfers are beginning to pay off. However, their defense keeps failing. Dalglish made numerous purchases in attacking positions but only brought in two defenders, Sebastian Coates and Jose Enrique.
On paper, Liverpool's defense looks almost identical to the one that flopped last season. And once again, there are major worries at Anfield. A deplorable 4-0 loss to Tottenham, a game that included two red cards for the Reds, makes it clear that Dalglish hasn't yet fixed his team.
The Reds are competing for a top-four spot this year and will need to shape up their defense as fast as possible.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 43
4. Stoke City
Goals Conceded Last Season: 48
Defensive Lineup: Begovic, Huth, Shawcross, Woodgate, Shotton (Collins, Upson, Wilkinson)
Stoke City's high placement on this list may be surprising after their 5-0 defeat to Sunderland. However, I feel that the Potters have a superb defense and that the Sunderland match won't be a recurring feature of Stoke's season.
Tony Pulis may be criticized by many people, namely Arsene Wenger, for Stoke's aggressive and defensive-minded play, but I think the Welsh manager has done a fantastic job.
At times, I don't like the sort of challenges that some of the Stoke players commit (like Ryan Shawcross' horrendous tackle on Aaron Ramsey), but Pulis has made his team strong and able to position well in the league table.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 41
3. Manchester City
Goals Conceded Last Season: 33
Defensive Lineup: Hart, Kompany, Lescott, Richards, Clichy (Kolorav, Savic, Toure, Zabaleta)
Manchester City tied Chelsea for fewest goals allowed last season, conceding 33 times. The Citizens have developed a reputation in recent years of favoring defense over offense. That looks completely different in the first weeks of the 2011/2012 EPL season.
The Citizens, with rivals Manchester United, have dominated the league and have racked up 17 goals after just five matches. A superb attacking lineup with the likes of David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko (among many others) has been irresistible.
But this article is about defense. City were usually strong at the back last campaign but were vulnerable at times. The acquisitions of Gael Clichy and Stefan Savic will certainly bolster their defense.
However, there were signs of issues at the back against Fulham on Sunday, and that may end up hurting Manchester City's quest to win the Premier League.
I do feel that City will have a solid defense during this season, but I still expect them to concede more goals than last campaign.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 36
2. Manchester United
Goals Conceded Last Season: 37
Defensive Lineup: De Gea, Jones, Vidic, Evra, Smalling (Ferdinand, Fabio, Rafael, Evans)
Manchester United scored the most goals last season but, at various times, may not have been too pleased about their defense.
The injured Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand weren't missed most of the time with great performances by Chris Smalling, but it was clear that Alex Ferguson was going to target a defender over the summer.
That's exactly what ended up happening, as the Red Devils purchased Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers. This buy already looks like a massive bargain as Jones has played superbly.
When Ferdinand and Vidic both return to full fitness, Alex Ferguson will have a hard time choosing a starting lineup, as so many United defenders are at their best.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 32
Goals Conceded Last Season: 33
Defensive Lineup: Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Bosingwa, Cole (Luiz, Alex, Bertrand)
Chelsea tied for best defense last season and will want to do even better this campaign. Andre Villas-Boas had a superb year defensively with Porto and will want to replicate that success at Stamford Bridge.
With the likes of John Terry, David Luiz, Petr Cech, and Ashley Cole at his disposal, the Portuguese manager will expect Chelsea to concede close to no goals at home and a minimal number in away games.
Predicted Goals Conceded: 28