My dad used to have a theory about the number of goals scored in football matches. That was that there are lots of goals scored at the start of the season, but as Christmas nears closer and further into the New Year there are fewer goals scored.
His theory was based on the idea that at the start of the season teams have little to lose and play with a more care-free attitude, while defenders haven’t quite had the chance to gel as a solid defensive unit.
By contrast, as the season gets older defences get stronger and managers become more negative as they realise “it’s easier to win 1-0 than to win 5-4”.
These are, of course, sweeping generalisations that differ from team to team and are superseded by managerial styles or “philosophies”. That said, I always thought the logic was relatively sound.
Why do people care? For those familiar with betting on football, they may find this of interest for their Both Teams to Score coupon or Total Goals per Game betting; while for those who are wise enough to keep their money in their pocket, it’s always worth being aware before taking your girlfriend or children to their first game, a guaranteed goal-fest in the Manchester Derby, for example.
As the 2015/2016 season rolls into November we are over a quarter of the way through the fixtures. As a follower of the English game my hunch is that this trend is starting to come become apparent.
In this week’s Figure It Out article we are going to dig into the results so far this season to see whether they have been supportive of this theory.
CURRENT SEASON ANALYSIS
Extracting the results from the 12 Premier League game-weeks, and from the first 16 game-weeks in the Championship and League 1 we can look for some trends
Figure 1 – Average number of goals per game, 2015/2016 season to date
Analysing the number of goals per game across the three leagues doesn’t yield conclusive evidence either way, which may be expected. The problem with this it allows for the figures to be drastically skewed by a couple of ‘freak results’ that can account for a large percentage of the goals. That said, the purpose of an average is to include all results from goalless draws to four-all thrillers.
The Championship did seem to be on a downward trend until the last game-week, while the top and third tiers of English football seem to bounce randomly around an average of about 2.7 goals per game.
CLEAN SHEET ANALYSIS
However, a crucial part of my father’s theory was that defence’s become shrewder and more difficult to break down as they become more familiar with one another. One way of analysing this would be to consider the percentage of teams who find the back of the net in each set of league fixtures. This will be of particular interest to any regular Both Teams to Score punter as mentioned earlier
Figure 2 – Percentage of teams to score at least one goal per game, 2015/2016 season to date
This starts to support the theory with slightly more confidence. The Premier League clearly had an influx of goals between weeks 6 and 8, but since then we see that around 33% of teams aren’t managing to break their oppositions resolve.
Over the last 4 game-weeks in League 1 we see that around 33% of teams aren’t scoring here too, whereas 9 of the first 12 game-weeks saw fewer than 25% of teams failing to score.
The Championship shows the strongest trend of the 3 leagues. Barring week 1, all of the first 10 weeks see fewer than 30% of teams finding the net. Compare this to the 6 weeks that follow and on average over 40% of teams fail to score.
Our analysis indicates that the current season is on track to support the theory that goals do dry up as the season goes on.
The next period of note in the football calendar is the traditionally action-packed festive period. It will be interesting to monitor this trend over that period. Will defences be handing their opponents early or late Christmas presents, or will they all be well-oiled machines by then, offering as much in the way of festive spirit as Jose Mourinho is likely to give to the media.
Keep an eye out for this analysis to be revisited again towards the end of the season as we look to further validate the hypothesis.