Clean-Sheets or Out-Scoring opponents – A modern-day conundrum!


Since the advent of football, the basic thing each manager focuses on is to find ways to win a football game whether it be via a goal’s margin or a victory by something substantial. But, in recent past, managers tend to change their system on frequent basis either with respect to the kind of opponents they’re facing or the type of situation they’re in. This brings us to a very interesting discussion whether out-scoring opponents always matter, or keeping clean sheets at the back matter more?

Firstly, let’s explain ourselves as to what basically is Clean-Sheet and Out-Scoring opponents:-

In football a team, defence or goal-keeper may be said to “keep a clean sheet” if they prevent their opponents from scoring any goals during an entire match. A theory as to the term’s origin is that sports reporters used separate pieces of paper to record the different statistical details of a game. If one team did not allow a goal, then that team’s “details of goals conceded” page would appear blank, leaving a clean sheet.

Out-scoring opponents basically means a football team scoring more goals than the other during an entire match. In this, both teams fail to keep a clean sheet so each are trying to score more than their opponents to win a game of football.

These two can be termed as a particular brand of football for a certain team. We can say this team depends on clean sheets to build confidence and then create chances to score goals at the other end.

The other way is to say this team depends on their attacking players to carve out openings, emphasize more on scoring goals and out-scoring opponents if they concede. In modern day, it is termed as ‘Front-foot football’.

But, by no stretch of imagination we can term “keeping clean sheets” as negative brand of football. It can be viewed as a confidence booster for the whole team, it is a known fact that if a team is secured at the back, the whole bunch of players feel comfortable and the supporters also have that sense of security.

Out-scoring opponents isn’t a bad idea but on a consistent basis, it hurts a team’s confidence defensively, relying on attacking set of players consistently to score goals on a high proportion doesn’t bode well. So, as a team if you’re 2 goals up, the sense of security and match under control isn’t there keeping everyone anxious. It is good for few games and shouldn’t be a regular practice.

We take a prime example of Leicester under Claudio Ranieri, they were champions of Premier League last season, and the key aspect to their play was keeping it tight on the back and hit the teams on the counter-attack. He used a 4-4-2 formation and shaped themselves as two banks of four while defending and leaving two strikers with pace to torment opposition on the counter attack.

Jose Mourinho’s team is another very prime example which can be associated with keeping clean-sheets primarily and then look to score in the other half. His plan A formation 4-2-3-1 was there when he was at Chelsea, Inter where the team was setup to become 4-5-1 while defending and spring the counter with pacy wingers and striker holding the play to get them involved.

Tottenham under Pochettino are another very good example, like Leicester, Spurs also challenged for the title last season with a secured back-line, defensive shutouts, stopping opposition from playing and imposing their style of play were few trademark Spurs’ aspects we used to see last season and this season too as they continue to be a team solid all over the pitch and challenging for the title.

We can talk about these teams and associate them with a ‘secured’ football team tag just because of that clean-sheet factor, it’s just that kind of thing which keeps everyone alert to the fact that this team won’t concede easy goals and they always are a threat when they’re attacking, so as an opposition you feel that if you concede a goal against them, it’s pretty much game over.

As far as teams related to out-scoring opponents are concerned, we can talk about Liverpool under Klopp now and also under Brendan Rodgers two seasons back. This season, the Reds have kept only clean sheet and still are joint top, this just shows how dependent are they on the forward players to keep them in-front in any situation of the game, for them 2 goal lead is not secure and as a supporter you can feel the tension that if opposition scores the next goal, tide of the game might turn. It’s not a bad thing to have but against teams who are difficult to break down, it can be a tough thing to do.

Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool scored 101 goals in that memorable 2013-14 season where they ‘nearly won the league’ but conceded as many as 51 goals. It was going good until that Chelsea and Crystal Palace game. Against the Eagles, Liverpool were 3-0 up with 30 minutes to go, but defensive frailties allowed Palace to comeback and level 3-3 eventually robbing the title from the Merseysiders.

We can also take Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City as an example too, keeping clean-sheets are not their most popular thing, it all started well for them in first 10 games of this season where even though they conceded goals, out-scored their opponents. But, now it’s hurting them, they’re win-less in 6 games and not keeping a clean-sheet contributes to this run massively.

So, after all these descriptions we can say that clean-sheets for a football team is more massive than continuously out-scoring opponents. The sense of security only comes when as a team you’re consistently shutting out opposition, then only as an attacker you think one chance and the game is ours.

At the end of the day, victory is all a team needs, as a manager you choose a secured route and all have their own way so we can’t classify this as negative or that as positive or vice versa.

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