Written four weeks into the 2023/24 season during the first international break, this article comes with a small data sample warning.
But the early signs are that this Premier League campaign will be more goal-laden than average – and may just go on to smash records.
After four gameweeks of action, Both Teams to Score bets have landed in 64% of EPL matches, Over 2.5 Goals in 69% and, all told, the average goal-per-game ratio is some 3.26. That was aided by Gameweek 4, in which BTTS hit the spot in 8/10 games and Over 2.5 Goals in 9/10 – with Tottenham’s 5-2 win over Burnley the high-scoring pick of the bunch.
So is this all something of an anomaly, or is football heading into a period of free-scoring fun and frolics? Perhaps the latter, with the English Championship seeing an almighty uptick in goals – 60% of games in 2023/24 so far have witnessed Over 2.5 Goals with an average of 2.87 per match, up from 44% and 2.43 in 2022/23.
In Spain’s La Liga – a notoriously goal-shy division – there’s already been an eight-goal thriller between Real Sociedad and Granada, France’s Ligue 1 averages more than three goals per game while in the German Bundesliga, that rate increases to a mind-boggling 3.70 goals per game.
What could be driving such consistent goal-den moments?
Following the Trends
The reality is that European football – and particularly the Premier League – has been enjoying more goals than ever before for the past few seasons.
The 2022/23 season broke the all-time EPL record, with 1,089 goals notched during the campaign – the most ever scored in a single 20-team top-flight season, eclipsing the 1,072 mark set in 2018/19.
What is interesting is that the ratio of goals scored from outside the penalty area has increased from 12.2% in 2019/20 to 13.6% in 2022/23 – bucking an overall trend that has seen teams generally shoot from closer to goal. More on that later.
There aren’t many Premier League teams that play in a turgid, conservative fashion anymore, and a tactical penchant for full backs bombing forward and high pressing has led to more goals both for those dominating possession and, in turn, those counter attacking against them.
It seems as though some of the old shackles have been lifted, but it’s also worth remembering that Premier League games effectively now last longer as well. New directives mean that extra injury time is added to account for substitutions, players seeking medical treatment and goal celebrations – matches are now lasting close to 100 minutes, on average. More time played naturally means more goals scored….
It’s worth pointing out a common misconception in modern football: that the introduction of VAR technology has led to more goals.
That’s not actually true, and in fact VAR has had no overall impact on the total amount of goals scored in the Premier League.
Over the entirety of the 2022/23 season, there were 33 decisions overruled by VAR that led to a goal being given – as opposed to 55 incidents where the goal was originally given but later ruled out following a video review.
VAR did lead to 26 penalties being awarded and 12 being rescinded – with eight of the 26 given then subsequently missed by the taker.
So the key point is that VAR has NOT led to an increase in the number of goals being scored – fans of the beautiful game must look elsewhere for their root causation.
Football’s statistical revolution has a poster boy – Expected Goals (xG) – which measures the quality of goalscoring chances being created (and, at the other end of the pitch, yielded).
The xG metric confirms what most instinctively know: that getting the ball as close to possible to the goal before shooting is a smart idea. That notion is confirmed by the fact that clubs that adopted xG and other measures early, such as Brighton and Brentford, are now significantly punching above their weight.
So, if teams are getting the ball closer to goal before shooting, that should lead to a downturn in the number of goals being scored from outside the penalty area, right? It’s true: 147 Premier League goals were notched from outside the box in 2022/23 compared to 164 in 2012/13, and that’s while accounting for the fact that players are simply getting better at scoring free kicks from range.
By resisting the temptation to take long range shots, which deliver a low frequency of goals, teams are in turn creating better goalscoring chances – that is perhaps one of the key drivers behind the modern goal glut.
How’s this for a fact: during the Premier League’s record-breaking 2022/23 campaign, the average shot distance was 15.9m. In 2015/16, that was 18.2m – so the mainstream adoption of xG has led to teams shooting 2.3m closer to goal than before, thus increasing their chances of scoring.
In the same timeframe, all five of European football’s ‘big five’ leagues has shaved a minimum of one metre from their average shot distance, so the next time you’re embroiled in a debate over why so many goals are scored these days, you can point out that shooting from closer range – and thus increasing goal probability – has been the main contributory factor.