Saturday, 15 May 2010

Are You Not Entertained?

What do Arsene Wenger and Sam Allardyce have in common? Quite simply, not much. They are both football managers but that is pretty much as close as the comparisons come. At one end of the scale we have Arsene's Arsenal with their brand of open, free flowing football. At the other end we have Big Sam's old employers, Bolton Wanderers. Big Sam would argue that he achieved a lot at Bolton and a lot of people would be inclined to agree with him; Arsene Wenger would have a slightly different opinion if his past comments are taken into account!

So, whilst researching for my article last week I decided to explore a different angle on a similar subject. No fan likes watching boring 0-0 matches. When you ask people about classic games they tend to pick games like the 4-4 between Arsenal and Liverpool, any one of the 4-3 games between Liverpool and Newcastle United or maybe even the 6-6 result that recently occurred in Scotland between Motherwell and Hibernian. I know what I would rather see and I am pretty sure that most fans agree with me. It might not be good for the old ticker but there is no feeling that compares to the excitement of an end to end game with goal after goal.

Using this logic I decided to take a look at what would happen if the Premier League, rather than awarding points for wins and draws, ranked teams by the number of goals scored. Of course, sometimes teams finish on equal goals scored so I decided to use goal difference, wins and draws as my determining factors. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I started to investigate this but by the end I was pretty surprised. I am sure you will be too!


Having just secured a famous treble Manchester United followed up by winning a second successive Premier League title with Arsenal, Leeds United and Liverpool wrapping up the top 4. However, basing rankings on goals scored would have seen the top 4 change dramatically with Newcastle United and Everton replacing Liverpool and Leeds United.

At the other end of the table things would also have been different with Wimbledon, or the Crazy Gang as they were affectionately known being replaced in the relegation zone by Bradford City.

Interestingly, Liverpool and Aston Villa would both have finished 7 places lower had the league been ordered by goals scored. Liverpool would have finished in 11th place with Aston Villa demoted to 13th.


Manchester United secured a third successive Premier League title but this time Arsenal brought the gap down from 18 points to 10 points. Still, it was a dominant display and once more the winners would not have been affected by changing to a goals scored ranking system. Arsenal would drop out of the top 4 into 5th place with Chelsea outscoring them to rise from 6th.

Manchester City would have escaped relegation, being replaced by Derby County. The biggest movers in the 2000/2001 season would have been Southampton who would have dropped 6 places from 10th to 16th and would have only narrowly missed out on relegation.

The total goals scored throughout the Premier League dropped from 1,060 (an average of 53 per team) in the previous season to 992 (49.6).


The first season so far where the top 4 would have remained the same although the order would have changed completely. In reality, Arsenal broke Manchester United's dominance but a goals scored system would have resulted in them picking up a fourth successive Premier League title with a goals scored tally that no other team had even come close to achieving.

Sunderland would have replaced Ipswich Town in the relegation zone with Sunderland losing 3 places and Ipswich Town gaining 4. Other big movers this season would have been Middlesbrough who dropped 5 places from 12th to 17th and Blackburn Rovers climbed 4 places from 10th to 4th.

The total goals scored throughout the Premier League rose slightly to 1,001 which represents an average of 50 goals per team.


Once more the top 4 remained in tact and once more the order completely changed. In reality, Manchester United regained their place as top dog but with the goals scored system last season's circumstances would have been reversed with Arsenal taking their place. Chelsea would have finished above Newcastle United with Liverpool retaining their place in 5th.

Bolton would have fallen victim to the system this season with West Ham United climbing 3 places from 18th to 15th. The biggest difference this season would have been Leeds United who would have finished a staggering 9 places higher, rising from 15th place to 6th place.

Exactly 1,000 goals were scored in the 2002/2003 season with the average per team remaining at 50 goals.


For the first time in this experiment there was absolutely no change whatsoever in the top 4. Arsenal would have secured a second successive Premier League title, narrowly beating Chelsea to the summit with the lowest goals tally so far to have been sufficient to win. The winning tally this year was 6 goals lower that the previous lowest tally which was in the 2000/2001 season.

Leeds United and Wolverhampton Wanderers would not have escaped their fate in relegation although Leicester City would have profited massively, climbing 6 places into 12th, with Birmingham City being the big victims, dropping a staggering 8 places from 10th directly into the relegation zone. The other big movers were Blackburn Rovers, climbing 6 places from 15th to 9th, and Middlesbrough and Southampton who both would have dropped 5 places to 16th and 17th respectively.

A total of 1,012 goals were scored which represents an average of 50.6 goals per team despite the top 4 scoring 31 goals less this season in total.


For the first time in 3 seasons the top 4 would have a team replaced. Most will remember this season as the season when Liverpool won the Champions League but lost their place in the top 4 to Everton. However, Everton only managed to score a total of 45 goals which was only enough to finish in 11th place, representing a 7 place drop. Middlesbrough would have taken their place as, despite being pretty much perfectly inconsistent, managed to score 8 goals more.

For the first time so far the relegation picture would change completely with all 3 condemned teams beating the drop. Southampton would have climbed a massive 7 places from 20th to 13th, whilst Norwich City and Crystal Palace would have climbed from 19th to 16th and 18th to 17th respectively. The teams to replace them in the relegation zone would have been Birmingham City once more, dropping 6 places from 12th to 18th, West Bromwich Albion dropping 2 places from 17th to 19th and Blackburn Rovers who would have dropped 5 places from 15th to 20th. The other big mover this season would have been Fulham, climbing 7 places from 13th to 6th.

The total number of goals dropped quite substantially this season to 975 which represents an average of just 48.75 goals per team. 


Having missed out on their first league title since the 1954/1955 season due to Arsenal scoring more goals last season, Chelsea would have won the league this season. They were tied with Manchester United on 72 goals but a 12 goal superior goal difference would have been enough to secure the title. The only changes in the top 4 this season would have seen Arsenal climb above Liverpool.

In complete contrast to last season, the 3 teams that were relegated in reality would also have been relegated with the goals scored system with the only change being West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City swapping places. Everton would have been the biggest movers this season, dropping 6 places from 11th to 17th.

The total goals scored dropped once more although by 11 goals to 964 meaning the average goals scored was as low as 48.2 per team.


Manchester United regained their title with an improvement of 11 goals from last season's tally. Interestingly, Chelsea scored 8 goals less but still did enough to secure 2nd spot. Once more Arsenal would take Liverpool's place in third with Liverpool only holding off Tottenham Hotspur due to a superior goal difference.

There would only be one change at the bottom of the table with Manchester City suffering massively in the scoring department. They would have dropped 5 places from 14th to 19th and only managed to stay off the bottom due to a better goal difference than Watford. Charlton Athletic would have climbed 2 places into 17th and would have beaten the drop by just 2 goals. Other than Manchester City there weren't any big movements with the biggest fluctuations being just 2 places.

The total goals tally dropped dramatically this season to a new low of 931. This represents just 46.55 goals per team.


For the first time in 3 seasons the top 4 would be broken into. This season Aston Villa would be the team to take their place rising 3 places from 6th to 3rd with 2nd placed Chelsea, perhaps surprisingly, dropping 4 places to 6th. Tottenham missed out on breaking into the top 4 by just 2 goals with Liverpool having a better goal difference by 34 goals.

At the bottom of the table it would be all change again with Birmingham City climbing a massive 9 places into 10th and Reading climbing 3 places into 15th. Replacing them in the relegation zone would have been Sunderland, who would have dropped 3 places into 18th, and Wigan Athletic, who would have dropped 5 places into 19th.

The total number of goals scored rose dramatically this season from 931 to 1,002, representing almost an 8% increase and an average of 50.1 goals per team.


For the first time in 19 years Liverpool would have won the league if the goals scored system was in place. Despite drawing too many games 0-0 there were several games throughout the season where they scored a lot of goals. Manchester United and Chelsea had exactly the same goal difference so 2nd place would have gone to Manchester United as a result of 3 additional wins. Arsenal were 13 goals inferior in terms of goal difference so would have finished 4th.

At the bottom end of the table West Bromwich Albion would have been rewarded for the open, attractive football that was responsible for their relegation and Newcastle United would have jumped up 7 places into 11th despite conceding by the bucket load. The teams that would have replaced them would have been Wigan Athletic who would have dropped 6 places from 11th to 17th and Sunderland who would have dropped 3 places from 16th to 19th. Other big movers include Fulham who would have dropped 6 places from 7th to 13th and Manchester City who would have climbed 5 places from 10th to 5th.

The total number of goals dropped by 60 to 942, representing an average of 47.1 goals per team.


When I began looking at this I didn't really know what to expect and, as a result, wasn't sure whether I would be supportive or not. Now I think it could be a good idea and would encourage more free flowing open football as teams would not simply settle for a 0-0 draw or a 1-0 win. Teams could afford to lose an extra goal here and there as long as they were scoring more and I think more managers would be prepared to take a gamble.

I also noticed similar teams hitting the relegation zone more often and additional teams breaking into the top 4. I am convinced that if these things had happened in reality then the league would be more competitive as the Champions League money would be distributed between more teams. As you can see below, 2 more teams would have had a shot at Champions League football over the last 10 years in the form of Aston Villa and Middlesbrough and Manchester United's dominance of league titles would have been slightly reduced.

In terms of the relegation battles things also look pretty different. As you can see from below there are teams that would have suffered relegation on numerous occasions with the goals scored system, most notably Sunderland who would have been relegated in 5 out of the 7 seasons that they have competed in the Premier League.

So, what do you think? Do you think this is a system that could work? How do you think things would change if this kind of system were to be implemented?


  1. i think your season tables aren't labelled with the correct season.
    Could be wrong but it was the 2004/2005 liverpool finished 5 with everton 4th.

  2. Hi, I think you have the layout confused. The table for 2004/2005 is below the text summary, not above the year label. I was trying to get the tables to appear to the right hand side of the text for each season but the formatting was messing up and it wouldn't work so I had to do it this way. You are right, Liverpool did finish 5th in the 2004/2005 season.

  3. Nice idea, but this can't happen. Teams could just agree to score endless goals against each other to boost their position in the table. How about ranking based on goal difference?

  4. I actually considered looking at goal difference too when I originally thought of this and I think that would also be an interesting concept. However, from what I can remember the top 4 would have been the top 4 every season over the past 10 years so wouldn't really alter the dynamic of the competition.

    I am pretty sure that the Premier League, or any other league for that matter, would adopt this approach but if they did I am pretty sure that teams would not agree to score endless goals against each other and ridiculously high scoring matches with a lot of dodgy play would be investigated and punished pretty quickly!

  5. Matt, that's a lot of effort you've put in just to see Liverpool at the top of a Premier League table!
    It's an interesting angle to analyse things from but not one I'd buy in to personally, and I doubt you'd get much support from the likes of Mr Hansen either! A solid defensive performance can often be as rewarding to watch as a goal-fest. Well, sometimes, anyway.
    Similarly, I doubt you’d hear many complaints from Gunners fans who followed their team during the successful days of “one-nil to the Arsenal”! Nor us Evertonians who remember rather fondly the 2004/05 season when we pipped Liverpool to fourth spot but scored only 45 goals in the process (only for Liv to bribe their way to a rules change and secure a CL spot the next season anyway !!)
    Jose Mourinho may not have been quite so successful in his league standings either - his strategy at Chelsea, and elsewhere, seemed shaped around bagging a 2 goal lead and then shutting up shop. We'd also miss out on the enjoyable rants from the 'big 4' (now big 3, big 2?) managers after a team from the lower echelons of the league go away and 'park the team bus' in the front of the goal! A goals per point may have been an interesting extra dimension?
    More seriously though, I think the main flaws would be that this system would not recognise who the goals were scored against and under what circumstances i.e. a referee could have a much bigger influence over league standings if he was to incorrectly send a player or two off, award some dodgy penalties etc (see Chelsea scoring 8 against Wigan on the last day of the PL!), or if the opposition were seriously impacted by injuries, suspensions, international duty etc for one or two games - could be seen as a significant unfair advantage to whoever plays them on those days. Teams are already getting fined for fielding weaker teams when there's only 3 points at stake - imagine the uproar if a team plays a second string and concede 6 or 7 goals!
    I'm sure you'd agree that the beautiful game, bar a few minor annoyances, is beautiful just the way it is and we should leave the point scoring revamps to sports like F1.
    Keep up the good work mate.

  6. To be honest I didn't do it to see Liverpool top of the league but it was nice that it turned out like that!

    I agree with many of the points you make about the tactical side of the game, especially seeing as I am a centre back with a pretty low skill level!

    I decided to look at this just to see how things would change really. I don't ever see any footballing body changing to a system like this but it's always nice to imagine the possibilities, don't you think?

    One point I found interesting there was the notion of not distinguishing who the goals were scored against and, whilst I agree, you don't get extra points for beating United or Chelsea away from home either so it's not like there is any distinction at present.

    It would be interesting if it did happen but I'm not holding my breath...

  7. I think an interesting and potentially more realistic move could be to award a 'bonus point' for scoring a certain amount of goals or winning by a specific margin - a bit like I believe they do in some forms of cricket and rugby. Anything that would incentivise an open and attacking approach but maintain the integrity of the game would certainly have to be viewed as a positive. Again, not convinced we'll see anything so drastic in the near future though - a five second delay to see if the ball crossed the line is already judged as too revolutionary by the powers that be!

  8. Definitely agree with you, I am bored of watching Liverpool try to defend one nil leads (when we are lucky enough to actually get one that is!) and want to see a return of attacking play. Like you say though, when the powers that be can't even be bothered to incorporate video replays to help improve the game I doubt they would ever look to address the defensive mentality that exists in so many teams.

  9. You cretin. What a waste of time and effort.More to the point, it is 10 mins of my life I won't get back.

  10. While it was an interesting read, it was from a purely subjective point of view. This system just wouldn't work at all in the league and I'd actually hate for it to be implemented. I don't see how any football fan could realistically want this system in place.

  11. I get what you are saying and, to be honest, I am happy with the way things are but I like to explore ideas and try to create debate around those ideas. I would, though, like to see more open football and would be open to listening to ideas on how this could be achieved.

  12. Honestly, your analysis is so weak. This isn't statistics; at no point do you make any effort to show a trend, or any sense of how it affects the league over time.

    Teams can have bad seasons defensively, and will, and as such these teams deserve to be in the bad league positions they finish in. Football is open enough; the game is not basketball, and I for one garner as much joy from a superbly crafted defensive performance as I do from an equally good attacking one. There's absolutely no reason to change. There's absolutely no reason to write out 10 years of different league tables and note the superficial differences. And there's absolutely no excuse for having written this article.

  13. The problem with this analysis is that, whilst it's interesting, it's *completely* meaningless, because even Benitez isn't stupid enough to sit back and protect a 1-0 lead when the only thing that matters is how many goals you score. Whilst it might look like the top 4 would change more under this system, all that would *actually* happen is that the top 4 would go out and buy a load of top strikers, together with maybe a few defenders who can win the ball quick and get it back up to the forwards (since it doesn't actually *matter* how many goals you concede, except against a close rival), with the result being that the top 4 would remain the same as before, only changing their tactics.

    Also, whilst this might sound like it would be fun to watch, it really wouldn't. Any game involving teams more than a few places apart (and, indeed, pretty much *every* game in the early stages of the season) would turn into absolute goal-fests, with scorelines like 50-45. For example, what is the point (in such a system) of playing a goalkeeper? If you concede a goal then it just means you get the ball back at the half-way line rather than on your own goal line. It might not be quite that bad (a goalkeeper would probably be useful enough in stopping other teams scoring that it would be worth having one rather than sacrificing him for an extra player), but it would certainly not be worth putting much effort into defending.

    What would happen in practice is that both teams would play 5 strikers, 4 midfielders and maybe one defender, and all the play would go on in the middle third of the pitch (because of the offside rule), with anyone who manages to get through the 'defense' being 4-on-1 with the keeper and almost certain to score. That wouldn't actually be any fun to watch, because it takes all the skill out of the game. Yes, it's fun to see lots of goals, but only because those goals require at least some level of *effort* to achieve. In such a system, a 10-2 loss is better than a 1-0 win, so all the teams will do is go out to score as many goals as possible. That will means obtaining the ball as much as they can, and then just charging up the pitch and getting it into the net. I'm not saying that teams will *let* each other score, but they won't have any real reason to go out of their way to prevent it, even in games between two teams that are close in the table (because a low-scoring game will likely lead to them *both* being caught by other teams). The sole focus will be on getting the ball for themselves and getting it to the forwards ASAP. Once the other team looks like scoring, you may as well let them, because it's quicker than trying to stop them and forcing them to pass the ball around for a bit first.

    A bonus point system could work, though. Perhaps a point for every 4 goals scored (in total). That'd be enough to encourage attacking play, whilst still making winning the game the *main* priority (which it needs to be for it to be truly entertaining).

  14. Some good points in there and I agree that maybe bonus points for goals would be a better idea. Personally, I am a defender so this sort of system would probably mean the end of my football playing days! I guess once you open these things up to the public domain you get a more rounded view of what the consequences would be. To be completely honest I had not given a lot of thought to teams going completely gung ho but there would be a very real chance of that. Like you say, bonus points for the number of goals scored, or maybe even the margin of victory, on top of the traditional points scoring would be a better system.

  15. Yeah, definitely. I would say a bonus point for the number of goals (either for scoring more than a certain number in a game (as in rugby) or for the total number scored in a season) would be better than one for the margin of victory, because having one for the margin of victory would mean that a team that was 3-0 up (supposing it was 3 goals you needed to win by to get the bonus) might go on the defensive to protect their bonus point. Other than that, it would work pretty well, if you want to encourage attacking football more.