An unstoppable offence or an immovable defence? We decide which is best in the A-League Men

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It’s an age-old question that has been toiled over by managers, coaches and fans across the sports landscape.

Would you rather have a high-powered offence capable of blowing the opposition away, or is it better to have a lockdown defence that never gives them an inch? And what would happen if you had the best of both worlds?

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Well, when it comes to the A-League Men, we have answered all those questions and more.

For the sake of simplicity, the league’s best defence was defined as the team with the fewest goals scored against them, while the team with the best offence was that which found the net on the most occasions.

Though this is far from a perfect metric, we can be confident it will give us a good perspective on which teams in a given year were truly the best of the best in the respective areas of play.

Let’s go through the data, since the A-League Men’s inception in 2005, and take a look.

The average ladder position for the league’s stingiest defence was around 1.7, with the league’s best defence having a better than 50% chance of finishing on top the ladder. This included an incredible decade-long run between the 09/10 season and the 19/20 season, in which every single team that finished on top of the ladder conceded the fewest goals that season.

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For the league’s best offence, the picture is slightly more complex. Their average final position was 2.1 – so nearly half a ladder spot lower than a best defence on a season-to-season basis.

This average was brought down in a big way by Adelaide United. On two separate occasions, the Reds finished sixth yet managed to score the most goals for the season.

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Overall, the pre-eminent offence was good for eight total first-place finishes, or exactly half of the seasons counted in the data.

Interestingly, the numbers were exactly inverted in terms of the teams who won the championship, ten of them having the best offence in the league, while eight boasted the best defence.

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Perhaps this could be a result of the sudden-death nature of the finals favouring those teams who play a more high-octane and fast-paced style that leads to more goal-scoring opportunities.

Meanwhile, those teams who are resolute on the defensive end benefited from having a season’s worth of matches to minimise the variance inherent in a lower-scoring play style.

One important caveat to mention is that there were six teams who recorded both the most goals scored and the fewest allowed. All of them finished at the top of the ladder, and four of them ended up winning the championship. This leads us to the unsurprising conclusion that you’ll generally do well when you can score a lot of goals and also prevent the other teams from scoring too many.

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Overall, it really depends on what you consider to be the marker of the premier side in the competition as to which way you’d go if given a choice between have a top-flight offence or an immovable defence.

A strong defence generally yielded a better ladder position, and more season premierships. However, if the ultimate marker is the championship, having a quality offence was actually your best bet.

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Feature Image Credit: Vision Inspired Photography

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Mitchell Turner
Mitchell Turner
Third Year Undergraduate Arts Student at Monash University (Journalism Major). Generic sports tragic living out my failed dreams of going pro vicariously through other people.

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