Goals in England, Spain & Italy

I’ll do this in English, as it is a comment to a photo on the WhoScored.com Facebook page. So, just to let my readers know what WhoScored.com is. WhoScored.com is just about the coolest football site out there. Really. I love it. I use it at least a couple of times a week. Why? Because they have great stats. Available for the price of free. Well designed, even. And with some cool analyses (best ones that aren’t from Zonal Marking, if you ask me).

Today they posted this chart:

I reckon the main takeaway is that the English Premier League is a free-scoring thing this year (like this). And, it seems, also has been the last couple of seasons. The Facebook comments are the classic ones, though. “Italy sucks!”, “Serie A is all about defending” and all that gibberish.

But it’s obviously a strange way to compare leagues. It’s almost acceptable if you were to compare trends in one league, but are there equally many games and teams in the different leagues? No, is the answer. Italy used to have only 18 teams in Serie A.

So let’s instead have a look at goals per game in the three leagues.

What can we gather from this graph? Well, first of all, it shifts quite a bit, which league sees more goals per game than the others. The last couple of years, England has seen the most goals. Although in 2008/2009, they saw the fewest. Could it be that the differences are actually not that big?

The graph below shows the trends a bit better. Actually, the Italian Serie A seems to have just been pretty steady the last ten years with England increasing the number of goals and Span being pretty unpredictable. The latter probably because of the goal tally tends to depend on both Real Madrid and Barcelona scoring freely. The England case to my mind is all about having managers like Villas-Boas, Mancini, Ancelotti, and Redknapp manage some of the better teams instead of the likes of Mourinho and Benítez. But I haven’t actually looked into the numbers.

Anywho. I feel it’s safe to say that no particular league regularly sees more or less goals per game than the others in any discernible way. No, Spain is no goal galore heaven and no, Italy isn’t all about getting a 1-0. Unless, of course, you are 1-0 up. And that, my friends, two teams can’t be at the same time.

“Meaning what, Captain Obvious?” you now say. Well. I don’t really want to look into all those seasons, but let’s have a look at the current one, at least. I do agree that Italians aren’t used to go for the big win (unless, you’re AC Milan playing a very poor Arsenal, of course), so if the winners score fewer goals than in the other two leagues, but practically as many goals are scored per game, they must concede more goals. In other words, the games must be more competitive. All this would mean fewer teams with outrageous goal differences.

And there you go. La Liga has two teams scoring at will, and not conceding many goals, whereas the Serie A is much closer in this regard. The best Italian teams even tend to concede more goals than the best teams in Spain and England. Which should put the “Serie A is more defensive” and “Italy simply has the best defenders” to rest. Or at least nuance the debate a bit.

Personally, I don’t find La Liga exciting at all. I like watching Barça and Real against each other and in Champions League, but that’s it. The rest is really dull. Serie A is really interesting as there are so many close matches and the overall standard is very decent for the top 7 teams. Who can all beat each other. And Premier League, well, yes, they are just about seeing the same pattern. 7 teams that can all beat each other.

I’ll take competitiveness and exciting matches any day instead of just a lot of goals from one or two teams. However good they might be.

Data here.

3 comments Write a comment

  1. Oh, and by the way I agree with your analysis. I would like to see the graph to go back to the nineties though … I think this is when the whole ‘Italian football is boring and defensive’ dogma really gained strength.

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