When you buy a ticket for a football match, what are you hoping for? An exciting 5-3 final score, a dull null or just your team’s victory?
In this very light statistical analysis, we took a short look on how the top 5 European leagues compare in terms of goal average – and what do those numbers tell us exactly? We could be tempted to infer that higher score equals a more offensive approach, but the beautiful game has frequently proved us that might not necessarily be the case. Let’s dig in.
- Premier League: 2,68 goals per game
From all the competitions in this article, the Barclays Premier League is the one where the ‘score and hold’ strategy is least used. No matter what the scoreline tells, not even the last-placed warriors sit deep and wait for the hourglass to run out against a title contender – virtually all teams play the game for the beauty of the game, for the excitement of the crowd. Different ways of doing it, of course, but rarely in a boring fashion. After all, fans actually keep the clubs running through the tickets and merchandise they purchase, hence the mystical atmosphere in almost all major English grounds. Manchester City were this year’s dominant side with world-class ball movement, rapid offensive dynamics and suffocating pressure from the very moment they lost possession, racking up 100 points and netting 106 (over 10%) out of the total 1018 goals scored.
- La Liga: 2,69 goals per game
An exciting competition where most teams seem to be still in the process of finding the best defensive stance, the Spanish top division doesn’t fall far from the goal average trend throughout Europe. Eternal title contenders Barcelona actually conquered greatness in dominating fashion, topping capital city rivals Atlético and Real Madrid by 14 and 17 points, respectively. They were just one strike short of the hundred (Real had 94), but the real case study here has to be runners-up Atlético. 58 goals, only 22 conceded, an average 2,10 goals a game – the League’s 3rd lowest behind Espanyol’s 2,05 and Getafe’s 1,97. An antithetical style to the one practiced by their giant neighbours.
- Serie A: 2,68 goals per game
Italian football has been undergoing a significant shift in recent years regarding teams’ philosophy. Once known as the land with impenetrable defences (which made for a very low goal average), le squadre retained their famous tactical solidity but have tweaked a few key aspects – for example, the 5-3-2 formation is no longer seen as a safe bet, but rather an opportunity to overlap full-backs and play a wide, cross-prone 3-5-2. In this years’ edition, the most prolific offense actually came from 5th place side Lazio (89 goals scored, with Ciro Immobile being crowned top goalscorer with 29 successful efforts). 7-consecutive-times champions Juventus were a closed second, scoring 86 of the total 1017.
- Ligue 1: 2,72 goals per game
As of today, the French championship is still generally regarded as the last one of the leaders’ pack in top-flight football in terms of sheer quality. While these subjective assessments are definitely debatable, recent monstrous investments have brought French fields some extra flavour. Just look at champions PSG: Adding to deadly striker Edinson Cavani, the arrival of Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr. and French wonderkid Kylian Mbappé provided Paris Saint-Germain with an absolute arsenal to gun opponents with, which resulted in several blowouts throughout the season (e.g. 8-0 against Dijon in January and a stunning 7-1 against previous years’ titleholders Monaco). They ended up netting 108 (!) out of the league’s 1033.
- Bundesliga: 2,79 goals per game
Probably not the first choice in most people’s minds, but the German League actually tops the goal average chart. Interesting fact: the division has 18 participants instead of the other league’s 20 contenders. This means 34 games played by each team, therefore a total of 306 matches versus the other countries’ 380. Without much surprise, Bayern Münich dominated the Bundesliga and, much like Manchester City in the UK, were simultaneously the most prolific offense (92 out of the league’s 855 strikes) and the sturdiest defence. Well-established youth structures and a very decent amount of homegrown players ensure that team chemistry remains at sky-scraping levels.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic…
There is at least one straightforward conclusion from this comparison: top European football is pretty balanced when it comes to the average amount of goals that you’ll see in an average game. Since goals cannot be split in decimals like heartless numbers can, you would see 3 or more goals with more frequency than 2 or less (Betting brokers, take notes. How would these numbers compare to those in, let us say, Latin America, where the game is traditionally embodied with fiery passion? More goals?
Quite the opposite, actually. It may seem strange that the country of samba and the crib of so many dribbling prodigies has a lower average than all of Europe (2,43 goals per game in the last full edition), but when analysing actual Brazilian League games and the way teams approach them, that dearth explains itself: the pressing philosophy in the Brasileirão ends up being very static, with very few teams applying high, focused pressure. The game ends up having few intricate movements and being very dependent on individual hints.
Moving on to the final example, the Superliga Argentina has unmatched intensity – whoever doubts that needs nothing more than the viewing of any full match. Players wear the heart on their sleeves and battle for each loose ball like it’s the last opportunity of their lives to do so. The result? Too much bustle in the midfield area and the lowest average of this article: 2,26 goals per game in this years’ championship.
What about that? Numbers definitely challenge our perceptions. Of course that there are different moments that fire up fans (I personally take pleasure in witnessing flawless, majestic chest controls, just laying that out there), but nothing like a beautiful goal for the game’s essence to flourish before our eyes.