TOcross English football, we’ve seen a spate of high scorelines, whether it was last year’s 9-0 victory for Manchester United over Southampton (one of the biggest win margins in Premier League history), United’s 11-10 defeat by Villarreal in the Europa League final, the nail-biting 21-goal penalty shootout between Liverpool and Chelsea in the League Cup final last month, or October’s record-setting non-league match, which saw 44 penalties. I asked Duncan Alexander, sports data expert and chief editor at Analystwhy.
Hi Duncan! SW why are there more goals in football now?
Do you mean penalties? Or goals generally?
In penalty shootouts, yes, there are more. In terms of goals generally, they increase or decrease based on changes to the game. If you go back to the mid-1920s, there was a jump because the offside rule was changed, so rather than having three defenders between you and the goal when the pass is played, it went down to two, which is what it is now. From the 1970s, goals declined, probably because of improved goalkeeping and more effective tactics. Everyone in England and Ireland has a fondness for the 1990 World Cup because both teams did really well. To the rest of the world, it’s seen as this horrible, grim, low-scoring, defensive, cynical tournament.
I’m interested to hear you say that. my husband is of the mindset that true fans don’t need goals.
He’s got a point. Until it went to penalties, this year’s League Cup final was 0-0, but it was a great game. When VAR came in, more penalties were given. Two seasons ago we were on course to see 300 penalties in the Premier League season, but it slowed down because even the refs thought: this is mad. So you get these spikes.
So we are in a spike? I knew it!
This season, we’re at 2.77 goals per game. In the history of the Premier League, the average is 2.65. The highest we’ve seen in the Premier League was in 2018/19, which was 2.82. If you go back to the start of football, in the 1890s, then it was more than four. We are getting a few more unusual score lines. I support Wycombe in League One, who had a 5-5 draw last month. There wasn’t a 5-5 for about 25 years, and there have been about five in the past 10 years. But these are random incidents rather than a shift to more goals.
Does money factor? I feel as if every time I watch Man City, there are six goals.
It’s less about the money paid for players and more about coaching. Italy’s Serie A in the 1980s bought all the best players, but it didn’t turn them into goal-scoring machines.
OKAY, and what about penalties ?
Players are really good at taking penalties now. There was also a rule tweak about three years ago where keepers were no longer allowed to move off the line. So we’re seeing penalty shootouts go into double figures.
Is there an argument for saying that if governance can generate more goals, then let’s ‘ave ’em!
There was a José Mourinho quote when Arsenal beat Spurs 5-4 in 2004. He said churlishly: “That is not a proper football score; it is an ice hockey result.” I think the reason football is the world’s most popular sport is that it’s low-scoring. When goals are relatively rare, that makes them valuable.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism