We all love watching the ball at the back of the net, we adore strikers more than the goalkeepers, more than the defenders- our everyday TV highlights seem to mostly celebrate a high scoring game, our discussions every morning after a beautiful night of football seems so biased on who scored and who missed a glorious chance? Don’t blame us, it’s the name of the game, what matters most- goals!
Rare is the massive applause regarded for the clean sheets- actually it mostly draws the line between awful/boring and wonderful/exciting. On the minimum, not conceding a goal will secure at least a point. However, if the team scores; then it has the potential to win the game and collect all three available points.
Chris Anderson and David Sally in their book ‘The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong note that- “In top level football, a clean sheet or zero goals conceded is more valuable than scoring a single goal. To put this in Numbers Game terms, then, an inequality central to understanding football is this: 0 > 1. Goals that don’t happen are more valuable than those that do.”
In this piece relating to our game (The Kenyan Premier League) we will seek to qualify the points value of clean sheets in the KPL over the last 4 seasons 2010-2014 and see what keeping clean sheets means for teams and if they help shape title credentials and potentials.
The Value of Clean Sheets
Out of a total of 957 games (exclude ties decided by board decisions and walkovers) played in 4 seasons of the KPL, 44.403% (425 wins) were won by sides who held the opposition scoreless. Only 17.76% of total games ended in scoreless draws (170 draws).
(NOTE; 2 ties from the 2010 season are not included as they were not played, but goals given, Red Berets v Thika which was abandoned and Chemelil v Thika United where Thika did not present players cards and points were given via boardroom decisions. Another case is 2013, Sony v Gor that also had points given via a boardroom decision)
|# Clean Sheet Games||144||147||154||150|
|Total Points from Clean Sheet||350||369||378||348|
|% of clean sheet wins to total games||43.277%||46.25%||46.667%||41.423%|
Impact of Clean Sheets on winning the KPL
Scoring the most number of goals will get you near the top of the KPL but not always as is the case with the Kenya Premier League. Have a look;
2010- Sofapaka 39 goals finished 4th
2011- Sofapaka 42 goals finished 3rd
2012- AFC Leopards 45 goals finished 3rd
2013- KCB 40 goals, finished 4th.
But a keen look at the defensive structure of the game reveals a slight reverse in the trend.
In the last 4 season alone- the team that has concede the least number of goals has gone on to win the KPL title except for Gor Mahia in 2010 who finished as runners up. (You shall remember this title race went up to the final day of the league)
2010- Gor Mahia 15 goals- Runners Up
2011- Tusker 17 goals- Champions
2012- Tusker 14 goals- Champions
2013- Gor Mahia 15 goals- Champions
As you shall notice with the above teams, during their title winning seasons, they best use their attack and defence hand in hand- by using a high pressing game and starving the opposition of possession. Looking further keenly at the stat, you realise these teams do not concede more than a goal averagely per game, the highest average being that of Tusker FC in 2011 which was 0.56 goals a game.
Looking at the last 4 seasons; Tusker(2011) had the least amount of clean sheets to secure first position (11 wins and 4 goal less draws) to secure first position. 63.793% of total points won was by holding a clean sheet. However 21/58 points were secured by holding opposition sides to one goal or less (36.02% of total points)
KPL Premiers; Impact of Clean Sheets
|Season||Champions||Clean Sheet wins/Total Wins||Total Points From Clean Sheets||Total Points||% of Total Points from Clean Sheets|
|2013||Gor Mahia||11/16||40||60 (-3)||70.175%|
For teams that have the most goals conceded in a season, the highest position achieved is 8th a feat that was achieved by Mathare United in 2012 when they finished 8th. So having the worst defence in the league will hurt a team’s ambition of being champions and for this case- even playing in the Top 8.
Keeping as many clean sheets as possible is an effective way of ensuring a team stays away from the bottom place, and helping them move further up the ladder, and just as seen- even in winning the Championship.
It suddenly lingers in my head the famous clichés used by commentators and pundits attack wins games, defence wins competitions.” There must some merit to this statement, don’t you think?
Another thing to note is that:
Clean sheets are valued and mentioned, but goals are celebrated, despite the fact that 0 > 1. Strikers are loved, defenders respected. And the penchant for attack continues to be deeply embedded in how decisions are made at the top level of football.
In the past two years- if you’ve been careful- you’ll easily notice that for the 2011 season and 2012 season- the Tusker Fc keeper Boniface Oluoch has been ranked best keeper while players like Atudo(2012) and Shikokoti(2011) have too proven to be among the best defenders in the country. Would this be a pointer to where the best keeper and the best defender awards will go to this year?
Lastly, maybe KPL coaches will see the value in (50% +) points per clean sheet game.