There seems to be a feeling nowadays that the Premier League is more attacking than ever. That we live in an era of all-out attack. That the art of defending is dead.
It’s an assertion we’ve casually made ourselves here at Full 90 Football, during our debate as to whether the Manchester City 17-18 team were the best the Premier League has seen. It’s one that I believed to be true.
It’s an age-old human trait, however, to believe your era to be special; to believe it’s the exciting one. We don’t want to admit things and people are largely the same as they always have been. We want to emphasis our modernity, and the newness of things around us.
It was that line of thinking that got me to questioning this widely-accepted adage – that the Premier League has become one massive goal-fest. I wanted to delve into the stats, and see whether it was actually true or not.
This is what I found.
Are There More Goals Now?
Are more goals scored in the Premier League now than there used to be? That’s the basic question.
I’d have assumed that they were, yes. I don’t think it’s a massive stretch to think most people would’ve agreed with me. Come on – we’ve got Pep’s City, Klopp’s Liverpool. We’ve got Kane, Aguero, Hazard, Salah, Vardy, Aubameyang, Benteke. Everyone’s pressing, everyone’s counter-attacking.
What do the stats say?
Well, in 2017-18, the average number of goals a team scored over the Premier League season was 50.9.
A decade ago, in 2007-08, that number stood at 50.1. Not such a big difference.
Let’s go further back. The earliest season which Footstats (the resource I’m using) have on record is 2000-01. That season, the average goals a team scored was… 49.6.
2000-01 was back in the time when men were men, and all the rest of it. When Jaap Stam, Sami Hyypiä and Sol Campbell were in their primes. John Terry and Rio Ferdinand were just coming into their own. Arsenal were lining up with Dixon, Adams and Keown at the back.
Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Like a different era. Part of that, of course, is because a lot of those guys are pundits now, and like to emphasise how much tougher it was in their day; how much tougher they were; how teams knew how to defend.
Well, across that apparently enormous transitional period… the average goals a team has scored across a season has increased by a mere 1.3.
One extra goal, in an entire season, basically.
To avoid any accusations of picking out random seasons, here are the respective three-season averages between 2015-16 to 2017-18, and 2000-01 to 2002-03.
- 15-16 to 17-17: 51.8 goals
- 00-01 to 02-03: 49.9 goals
So, with a larger sample size, the difference comes down to less than one goal.
The stats are clear. In terms of the number of goals scored, there is almost no difference between the “modern” era, and the “back in the day” era.
“So, that’s it then, is it? It was all a load of rubbish? We don’t live in a more attacking era?”
Well, not so fast my friend!
Again, based purely on the eye test, I was sure football is more attacking now than it used to be. The fact that average goals per season has barely changed surprised me, therefore, so I dug a little deeper.
Once I’d finished with actual goals, I turned my attention to shots instead.
Here are the shots per game stats from those same three-season periods.
- 15-16 to 17-17: 12.6 SPG
- 00-01 to 02-03: 11 SPG
Now that is a big difference.
Teams in the last three years are averaging 1.6 more shots per game than their early noughties counterparts.
What Does It All Mean?
First of all, the art of defending is not dead. Let’s clear that up straight away.
The number of goals per season has increased by 0.9, per my three season samples.
The number of shots per game has increased by 1.6.
That means that teams are taking nearly 61 shots more across a season… and scoring about one extra goal.
61 more shots! With our current average of 12.6 SPG, that means teams now are having the equivalent of an extra 4.8 game’s-worth of shots… and doing almost nothing with them.
What does it all mean?
It means that Premier League football really is more attacking than it used to be, with vastly more shots being fired off than with its turn-of-the-millennium equivalent.
The actual quality of attacking football, however, is far worse.
Is that because teams take more long shots? Because finishing is poorer? Have coaching standards declined? Are defences actually -gasp – better than they used to be, restricting the number of quality chances they afford?
I don’t know… but I’m intrigued to find out.
Your thoughts, as always, are very welcome.