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Man City to maintain goal glut

stating the obvious
Sam Allardyce's West Ham faces a tall order against Manuel Pellegrini's Man City.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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First, we’ll state the plainly obvious: goals are important in soccer. They are both the point of the game and the currency of its wins and losses. Dutch soccer legend, oracle and torturer of language Johan Cruyff gets downright metaphysical about them. "You must always make sure to score one more goal than the opponent," he once said, helpfully.

"Look, at a minimum the ball has to go between the two posts," he professed another time, adding significantly to the scholarship of scoring.

These sage wisdoms underpin the reason that today's League Cup semifinal second leg between Manchester City and West Ham is all but moot. In the first leg, City scored lots of goals and the Hammers didn’t score any. The six-goal deficit is insurmountable to West Ham, based on both the context provided by the utterly one-sided first leg – wherein City’s Alvaro Negredo ran rampant with a hat trick, Edin Dzeko bagged two goals and Yaya Toure picked one up too – and their larger body of work this season.

City manager Manuel Pellegrini says otherwise of course, as is his professional obligation. “The semifinal isn’t finished,” he told Sky Sports, admitting to no more than that “we have made an important step.”

His counterpart, the embattled Sam Allardyce, whose side is fighting off relegation from the Premier League, is more realistic. "We know it is highly, highly unlikely that we are going to get through," he said.

If the game promises to be null as a sporting contest, however, it will still hold some truths about modern soccer. In a sport that’s been marred by ages of austerity and periods of pragmatism in its history, when the scoring of goals incomprehensibly went out of vogue in favor of avoiding the scoring of goals, we seem to be back in a goals golden age. In each of Europe’s five major leagues, the most convincing title candidates mass-produce goals.

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In Italy, Juventus are running away with the league and have scored 50 goals in 20 games, seven more than anybody else. In Germany, Bayern Munich are virtual locks to repeat and have scored 42 times in just 16 games. In France, Paris Saint-Germain have 51 in 20 and have been imperious. In Spain, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid are separated by just a point at the top, and have rammed in 54, 48 and 58 goals in 20 games, respectively. The next-most prolific team, Villareal, have scored just 39 and logically sit 13 points adrift in fourth place.

City are the paragons of the scoring frenzy in England. Arsenal cling onto the league lead by a point, but City have been far more resounding in their wins. City have, in fact, scored 20 more times than the Gunners, with a whopping 63 tallies in just 22 games.

Across the four major competitions – the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, the FA Cup and the League Cup – City reached their 100th goal in the 4-2 win over Cardiff City on Saturday, not counting three own goals. Fellow title-contenders Chelsea, meanwhile, have 64. Arsenal just 54.

The swashbuckling attack, typically consisting of two strikers, two very high wingers and a central midfielder in Yaya Toure with license to join the attack as a deep-sitting striker of sorts, has run roughshod over all who have come. This is a marked reversal from last year, when City, in spite of counting the same expensive attackers, couldn’t buy a goal when they needed one.

Cruyff again: “You have to shoot or else you can’t score.” City’s 17.7 shots per game lead the Premier League by an entire shot, according to WhoScored.com. (For perspective: Cardiff City are the least trigger happy team in the league with 10.7 shots per game.) And while that’s only up marginally from last year’s 17.4 – third at the time, behind Liverpool’s 19.4 and Tottenham’s 17.9 – the quality of those shots has been much higher. Pellegrini’s assertive possession- and movement-based style has positioned the likes of Negredo, Dzeko and the team’s league top scorer Sergio Aguero for simpler chances to take.

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At the other end of the spectrum, the Hammers’ meagre 12 shots per game have bagged them just 22 goals in 22 league games, exactly one per game. Little wonder that they sit in 18th place. In the League Cup, however, they had managed 2.33 goals per game until the 6-0 loss to City in the first leg, explaining their run there.

Still, the problem persists. No Hammer has scored more than five goals so far this year. And top-scorer Ravel Morrison is heavily linked with a transfer to some less bleak destination. Strikers Ricardo Vaz Te and Carlton Cole have hardly convinced. And their colleague Andy Caroll is only just coming back from a long-term heel injury.

Even though City will probably run out a pack of reserves and West Ham are finally reclaiming a band of regulars from the injury list, it isn’t hard to predict to which side the goals will come on Tuesday.
 

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