A seven-goal thriller, read the headlines as Arsenal struck a 97th minute winner to break Luton Town hearts in December.
Once upon a time, seven goals in a single Premier League game would have raised many an eyebrow, but these days the Gunners’ 4-3 victory over the Hatters was just another day at the office for a division that is becoming increasingly chaotic….and goal heavy.
The weekend prior to that thriller saw four goals or more scored in a whopping 60% of Premier League games – continuing the theme that the 2023/24 season could smash the record for most goals scored in a campaign; a record set as far back as 2022/23.
It’s true: the EPL is seeing more goals now than ever before, as confirmed by the stats.
Back in the early days of the Premier League, 22 teams contested each season up to and including 1994-95; therefore, it’s impossible to use those campaigns as a yardstick against today’s 20-team division.
But in that inaugural 1992/93 campaign, the average goal-per-game count in the Premier League was 2.64. That had risen to 2.85 by 2022/23, which may not look a huge increase on paper, but remember that there’s 380 games played per season – the marginal gain soon adds up.
And after 14 rounds of the 2023/24 season, the average goal-per-game count had reached an extraordinary 3.17.
When you look at the data season-by-season, it’s clear that the increase in goals scored is not a simple upward curve – for example, the first 20-team Premier League campaign saw a total of 988 goals netted; by 2006/07, that had fallen to 931. But for the most part, there’s no doubt that modern football has been injected with a certain lust for finding the net that wasn’t there previously.
To make that point, here’s a visual on how the total number of goals scored in a Premier League season has fluctuated:
Part 1 – 1995/96 to 2008/09
As you can see, in this timeframe from the early days of the Premier League to 2009, there was a general downtick in the number of goals being scored – created, in part, by emphasis on tighter defending and more conservative styles of play during the 2000s.
Indeed, in this 14-year window, the 1000-goal mark was breached just six times – a stark contrast to what would follow….
Part 2 – 2009/10 to 2022/23
From 2009 to 2023, you will notice an almost mirror image to the timeframe that had gone before in the Premier League: now, only season was under the 1,000 goals mark.
Since 2015, the line is very much in the ascendancy, with the highest-scoring season between 1994 and 2009 (1060 goals in 1999/2000) surpassed no fewer than seven times in the past 15 years or so.
The highest-scoring seasons in Premier League history are:
- 2022/23 – 1,084 goals
- 2018/19 – 1,072 goals
- 2021/22 – 1,071 goals
So, we can say with some confidence that there are more goals being scored in this modern Premier League era. And, even though we only have a sample of 14 rounds of games in 2023/24, it’s interesting to note that if the current trend is observed until the end of the campaign, this season will witness a whopping 1,204 by far the most prolific campaign in EPL history!
Bucking the Trend?
Of course, the English Premier League doesn’t exist inside a footballing bubble – there’s plenty of other elite divisions around the world.
But are those leagues witnessing similar trends as the EPL as far as goals are concerned? It’s worth taking a look at the goal-per game averages comparing the 2012/13 season to 2022/23 in the other divisions that make up Europe’s ‘big five’ – the German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga, French Ligue 1 and Italian Serie A:
Goals Per Game in the Top 5 Leagues
As you can see, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 are bang on trend with increases of their own, whereas La Liga and Serie A bucks the trend by actually seeing fewer goals in 2022/23 than a decade earlier.
How can that be possible? There are a number of potential factors, although in the case of La Liga there’s an almighty anomaly – that was the year that Lionel Messi blasted 46 league goals for Barcelona, in a season in which the Catalan club and Real Madrid combined notched some 218 goals; nine of the 20 teams scored 50 or more goals, which is particularly unusual for a competition that is typically more conservative in nature.
So is football in general more high scoring these days, or has the Premier League simply undergone a revolution of attack, attack, attack! Perhaps only time will tell as to whether the current trends will continue….but for what it’s worth, after more than a third of the 2023/24 season, the goal-per-game ratios in the Bundesliga (3.43) and La Liga (2.75) are nearing all-time high levels for their respective bests.
For those that like to have a flutter or two on the football, it’s generally accepted that markets relating to the outcome of a game – match result, Asian handicaps and the like – remain the most popular types of bet around the world.
But there’s plenty of punters that seek goals in their weekly wagers, and the good news for them is that the players and teams that they are backing are coming up with the goods.
Indeed, no matter which of the most common goals markets you consider, you would think that the stats are more in favour of the humble punter than they have been at any other time during the past decade.
However, those that favour over 2.5 goals have seen the ratio of Premier League games obliging on that front decrease from 54% in 2018/19 to 53% in 2022/23, with the number passing the 3.5 mark staying the same at 32%.
Interestingly, those who favour the Both Teams to Score market have also seen little in the way of increase – from 51.3% in 2018/19 to 51.6% in 2022/23.
But if we have learned that there are more goals being scored in the Premier League now than ever before, why aren’t punters getting an advantage? The truth is that the biggest change has been witnessed in games featuring freakishly high numbers of goals.
Here’s how the trend for those has changed from 2018/19 to 2022/23:
- Over 4.5 Goals – 14.5% (2018/19) to 16.8% (2022/23)
- Over 5.5 Goals – 6.1% (2018/19) to 8.7% (2022/23)
While punters as a rule should be discouraged from betting on such unlikely outcomes, nevertheless it’s clear that the number of Premier League games featuring an extraordinarily high number of goals in on the increase.
What’s interesting is that despite there being more goals going in, the bookies haven’t neccessaril;y translated that into tighter margins. Albeit a very small sample, when Aston Villa played Chelsea during the 2012/13 season, three leading UK bookmakers had margins of 6.7%, 7% and 8.2% respectively on the Both Teams to Score market.
Fast forward to 2023/24, and for the same fixture those read 6%, 6.5% and 6.7% – punters are able to secure a better ‘deal’ with the anecdotal feeling that Both Teams to Score is more likely now than back in 2012/13. Despite Chelsea spending billions on new players, Aston Villa are better now than they have been in years….suggesting that the margins in 2023/24 should have been tighter than a decade previous.
A more thorough examination of this concept might turn up equally interesting results. But the bottom line is that while more goals are going in, the bookies haven’t necessarily shortened their odds or slashed their margins accordingly.
Why are More Goals Being Scored?
You would think that there’s a simple explanation as to why the Premier League in particular is witnessing more goals now than ever before.
The truth is that it’s probably a combination of factors that are leading to so many blockbusters being played out each weekend – although the fact that games are lasting longer than ever before has to certainly be one of the most important….
Insult to Injury
It’s a simple truth: Premier League games now last longer due to changes in the rules of how injury time is calculated, so therefore more time – in theory – means more goals.
IFAB, football’s rule-makers, decreed that all stoppages during a match should be added to the end of the half – including substitutions, players receiving injuries, goal celebrations….basically anything that disrupts the flow of the game.
That change was first witnessed making a major difference at the 2022 World Cup, where contests would often last 100 minutes or more, and IFAB’s directive has since been taken on by PGMOL – the referee’s association for English football.
Premier League games are lasting longer as a consequence, with the average amount of injury time being added ranging from 8:27 during the 2022/23 season to 11:33 in 2023/24.
Does an extra three minutes make a difference? It certainly gives a losing team more time to chase an equaliser, and it’s interesting that around 25% of all goals in EPL games during 2023/24 have been scored in the minute quadrant 75-90+ – that’s up from the 20% witnessed in 2022/23.
So you can be sure that more injury time means more goals – particularly in the latest phase of the average game.
Know Thy Enemy
Football has enjoyed a data revolution in the past five years or so, with Expected Goals (xG) now a common part of the game’s parlance – it barely even existed a decade ago.
The importance of xG can be debated until the cows come home, but the key thing to note is that it measures the quality of chances being created and yielded – ‘quality’ in the sense of the probability that said chances will be converted into goals.
Unsurprisingly, the ubiquitous nature of xG means that more and more managers and coaching teams are putting an emphasis on the quality of goalscoring chances created – bringing an end, almost, to speculative 30-yard shots at goal which, while spectacular when they come off, are also low probability in nature.
Instead, coaches are focusing on creating tactics, scenarios and patterns of play from which their team are able to fashion the optimal goalscoring opportunity: a clear shot at goal from close range and in the middle of the penalty area.
That data point is football’s new Valhalla – it’s no wonder that an appreciation of xG has led to more goals being scored thanks to the education it provides.
A Step Too VAR?
With every bit of minutiae on the field being examined by the hawk eyes of the VAR officials, surely the introduction of video officiating has led to more goals being scored?
The answer, in truth, is sort of.
Surprisingly, more goals are disallowed by VAR than when the video evidence suggests a goal should stand – 55 ‘goals’ were ruled out in 2022/23 in the Premier League, with 33 given the green light.
The input of VAR officials led to 26 additional penalties being awarded during that same season, although only 18 of those were actually scored from.
So, when you balance up the ledger, it would only be accurate to conclude that VAR has had a marginal impact on the number of goals that are scored in the Premier League.
The New Revolution
Although the purists won’t like it, one of the main reasons why more goals are scored in the EPL these days is the tactical revolution that has occurred in the past decade – and specifically the attack-minded leanings of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
City were in the doldrums for many years, but a takeover by an Arab state (which always helps) has afforded Pep a blank chequebook with which to indulge his wildest footballing fantasies – the result is that in his seven completed seasons at the Etihad Stadium, City have finished their Premier League campaigns having scored 90 or more goals in five of them.
Something similar has happened at Liverpool, where Jurgen Klopp took over in in a blaze of Gegenpressing, ‘heavy metal’ football. The upshot? The Reds have since won their maiden Premier League title and the Champions League, regularly joining City on 90+ goals scored.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so other clubs have tried to ape the technical style of Pep and Klopp – with mixed results, it has to be said. But the days of Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis are long gone; attacking, high defensive lines and relentless pressing are very much the fashion in the Premier League….for now, at least.