Glenn Moore: Quality sides cancel each other out, right? Wrong. When giants go head to head, expect goals

The Weekend Dossier

Click to follow
The Independent Football

According to Arsène Wenger, high-scoring matches between two "big teams", such as Arsenal's 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, can be ascribed to "special circumstances". They are freak results.

Maybe, but there have been enough "freak results" this season to reveal a statistical trend. In the 10 matches in this campaign between the current top five (Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal) there have been 47 goals, 4.7 per game. The average number of goals in the other 200 Premier League matches played this season, including those featuring one of these teams, is 2.7, two goals less per match.

It is an extraordinary statistic, unmatched in the major leagues. In Italy and Germany, matches between big teams feature fewer goals than the divisional average, and while Barcelona's prowess means games between La Liga's leading clubs are relatively high-scoring compared with the league they still only average 3.3 goals a game.

Why? Wenger is partially correct, in several matches there have been special circumstances. Yesterday he dwelt on Arsenal's at Old Trafford. "Big scores like this have no meaning football-wise," he said. "People forget that on the day we conceded four goals in the last 20 minutes with 10 men and we played for our [Champions League] lives three days before at Udinese. We came back [from Italy] completely exhausted. I took a gamble and took Coquelin out, who was the only defensive player in midfield, and we were too open."

Wenger noted Manchester United were also reduced to 10 when losing 6-1 at home to City, but there were no red cards in City's 5-1 win at Spurs or Arsenal's 5-3 at Chelsea. There are other factors at play.

One is the number of injuries to defensive players at Arsenal, who have played much of the season without a recognised full-back, and Manchester United, who have regularly fielded a back four in which Patrice Evra is the only first-choice defender, and often deployed Michael Carrick at centre-half and Antonio Valencia at right-back.

More significant, though, is a commitment to attack which at Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham is driven by the managers, at Chelsea by the owner, and at Manchester City perhaps a combination of the two. All five teams push their full-backs on at every opportunity and have tended to play one defensive midfielder at most. Of the latter only Oriel Romeu is a true holding player; Scott Parker, Gareth Barry and Alex Song are all prepared to go forward. The big change in this respect is at Manchester City where Roberto Mancini dropped Nigel De Jong.

The attacking philosophy even applies when a team is reduced. "When you're a big team and you play with 10 men you don't sit back," said Wenger. "You still want to attack but against teams of quality if you open up at the back then they can punish you."

Thus while Chelsea could attack QPR with nine men and not concede, when Wenger withdrew Coquelin Arsenal were thrashed.

This eschewing of caution is less evident abroad. Last weekend's Milanese derby was a cagey affair, won by a solitary goal from Internazionale. In Wednesday's El Clasico Real Madrid, though at home, defended deep and played on the counter-attack.

While many Premier League clubs do the same when facing big-five teams, with good reason given the disparity in resources, the big clubs are prepared to risk. Michael Cox, of the tactics website, said: "In these matches abroad one team seems to know its place, Real against Barça, Inter against Milan, and they defend. The English teams want to take the game to the opposition.

"Crowds in England want attacking football, and in the case of someone like Andre Villas-Boas attacking football buys him time, as he can say he is working to a long-term change."

The lowest-scoring match between the five has been City's 1-0 home win over Arsenal, a breathless, open match of end-to-end attacking. Only excellent goalkeeping and poor finishing kept the score down. The latter was unusual because another reason for the high scores has been the depth and quality of strikers at the leading clubs – a quality not matched by defences.

The other question about this weekend's games is, might they determine the title? Maybe, maybe not. Last season, had the top five not played each other, the only change in finishing positions would have been Manchester City coming second instead of Chelsea.

Five Asides

1. Crewe do youth proud – and more Powell to their elbow

As Chelsea buy three brothers aged 12 and 13 from Luton, further evidence that precocious youths may be better at smaller clubs – if it is the right club – is provided by the Football League's selection of Crewe's Nick Powell as player of the month. The 17-year-old is one of the few from England's U17 World Cup quarter-finalists last summer playing regular league football. The captain, Chelsea's Nathaniel Chalobah, has yet to make his debut.

2. Huddersfield fans to make colourful protest on TV

TV viewers of Huddersfield Town v Brentford today may be perplexed at the sea of lime-green shirts. It is part of a protest by Town fans at the failure of the previous chairman Ken Davy to return his 40 per cent share of the stadium ownership, which he sold for £2 to a company owned by himself in 2003. Davy later said it was to protect the club at a time of financial difficulty. Town now appear well-financed under Dean Hoyle but the shares remain with Davy, giving him 60 per cent of the company (the council owns the rest). Planning permission has been granted for a retail and leisure development on 54 acres of land in the package.

3. Who needs a Tevez when you have a Tinkerman?

Claudio Ranieri has been a manager for a quarter of a century but, despite jobs at some of Europe's biggest clubs, he has never won a top-flight title. Still he keeps finding work, and Internazionale's recovery since he took over shows why. Using the ageing squad he inherited, but frequently without Wesley Sneijder, Ranieri has taken Inter into Serie A contention, following last week's defeat of Milan, and into the Champions League's last 16. No wonder the Tinkerman appears in two minds as to whether Carlos Tevez will accelerate or wreck Inter's momentum.

4. And the best of Welsh luck to well-travelled Coleman

Since being pushed, somewhat prematurely, out of Fulham Chris Coleman has had a series of difficult jobs, none of which has ended well. However, his willingness to work abroad shows an open mind which should prove invaluable as manager of Wales.

5. Barton does his bit for the homeless – a 'Big Issue' bit

Generous Joey Barton has provided his first monthly column for the Big Issue, the weekly magazine sold by homeless vendors. It's an excellent cause and the union can only help the profile of both parties. But you have to wonder, at £70,000 a week, that if Joey really wanted to help the homeless he could buy a few houses and turn them into shelters. After all, in his first column the 29-year-old notes that he had already earned enough money at 24 to "live comfortably" for the rest of his life.

Glenn Moore's verdict on all the weekend action

Norwich City vs Chelsea

Odds Home 5-1; Draw 3-1, Away 4-7.

Kick-off Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Declan Rudd (knee) is out for two months for the hosts and Ritchie de Laet has returned to parent club Manchester United, but Marc Tierney is back training. For Chelsea, Gary Cahill is unlikely to start, but Branislav Ivanovic and Michael Essien are back in contention.

Everton vs Blackburn

Odds Home 4-7; Draw 11-4, Away 6-1.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Shane Duffy could keep his place for Everton with Sylvain Distin (hamstring) and Phil Jagielka (knee) out. Jack Rodwell and Tony Hibbert are doubts. Anthony Modestse could make his Blackburn debut, as Yakubu begins a three-match ban, while Scott Dann (groin) returns. Steve Kean will make a late decision on Chris Samba.

Fulham vs Newcastle

Odds Home Evens; Draw 12-5, Away 14-5.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Mousa Dembele (hip) and Orlando Sa (hamstring) miss out for Fulham, while Mark Schwarzer (spine) is two weeks away from a return. For Newcastle, Yohan Cabaye (ankle) will undergo a late test, and Peter Lovenkrands (calf) is in training, but Cheick Tioté, Demba Ba and new signing Papiss Cissé are at the African Cup of Nations.

QPR vs Wigan Athletic

Odds Home 11-10; Draw 9-4, Away 13-5.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Joey Barton returns from suspension for Mark Hughes' side, although Danny Gabbidon (hip) is a slight doubt. Adel Taarabt and Armand Traoré are at the African Cup of Nations and Alejandro Faurlin (knee) is out for the season. Wigan manager Roberto Martinez has doubts over David Jones (calf), while Mohamed Diamé is also in Africa.

Stoke vs West Bromwich Albion

Odds Home 5-6; Draw 5-2, Away 100-30.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Stoke manager Tony Pulis has doubts over Ryan Shotton (foot) and Rory Delap (calf), with both due to undergo late fitness tests. West Bromwich have Jonas Olsson (calf) available but Paul Scharner (Achilles) is struggling, with Graham Dorrans and George Thorne standing by. Chris Brunt (ankle) remains out.

Sunderland vs Swansea

Odds Home 5-6; Draw 12-5, Away 7-2.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Wes Brown (groin) and Titus Bramble (Achilles) may return to contention for Sunderland, while Matt Kilgallon and Jack Colback (both ankle) are out and Fraizer Campbell is short of fitness. Josh McEachran goes into the Swansea squad after joining on loan from Chelsea, while Gylfi Sigurdsson is also pushing for a midfield start.

Wolves vs Aston Villa

Odds Home 6-4; Draw 9-4, Away 15-8.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Wolves hope to have captain Roger Johnson back from an ankle injury while Kevin Foley (ankle) and Matt Jarvis (hamstring) could also feature. Robbie Keane is in contention to make his full Aston Villa debut, while Stephen Ireland has impressing in training. Chris Herd (ankle) and Emile Heskey (Achilles) remain sidelined.

Bolton vs Liverpool

Odds Home 9-2; Draw 11-4, Away 4-6.

Kick-off Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news David Ngog may replace Kevin Davies up front for Bolton, although Jussi Jaaskelainen is unlikely to return in goal, despite nearing recovery from a thigh injury. Liverpool's only doubt is over midfielder Jay Spearing (hamstring), with centre-back Daniel Agger set to return in place of Jamie Carragher. Luis Suarez remains suspended.

Man City vs Tottenham

Odds Home 10-11; Draw 13-5, Away 3-1.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 1, 10.50pm)

Team news Roberto Mancini welcomes back Mario Balotelli (ankle) and Micah Richards (hamstring) after both missed Monday's victory at Wigan, although Vincent Kompany is banned. Tottenham have slight hopes over Ledley King (hamstring); Emmanuel Adebayor is ineligible.

Arsenal vs Man United

Odds Home 9-5; Draw 12-5, Away 6-4.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 1, 10.50pm)

Team news Thierry Henry (calf) will undergo a late fitness test for Arsenal and Thomas Vermaelen (calf) is a major doubt, while Mikel Arteta (calf) is out. United welcome back Phil Jones and Chris Smalling but Anderson is out and Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young are short of fitness.