For the neutral, concerned only with the spectacle, football is all about goals. Generally, the more of them we get to see, the better. However, as the old adage goes, the perfect game of football, where every player fulfils their role perfectly and without mistakes, should always end 0-0.
It is a game that is designed to make the job of a goalscorer increasingly tricky, thanks to the introduction of positional specialists like goalkeepers, the offside rule, and – historically at least – a laissez-faire approach to rough tackling. With all of this in mind, it’s not exactly surprising that the first-ever international football match, which took place between England and Scotland in 1872, ended as a goalless draw.
In the elapsing 150 years since that game, we’ve seen the pendulum swing back and forth between defenders and attackers, with new rules and developments tending to affect the number of goals we see in matches. This has helped birth a modern game where score lines fluctuate massively – and where neither attack nor defence is too overpowered.
Today, most games have at least one goal in them, but how frequently do we see more than 2.5 conceded in a match? Here, we will attempt to answer that exact question, much to the delight of punters everywhere who are considering backing over 2.5 goal bets.
What Is The Average Number Of Goals Scored?
Firstly, it’s important to understand just how many goals we tend to see in a given football game before attempting to look at how many exceed 2.5 goals. Naturally, these numbers vary through the ages, although some of the data, in the English game at least, remains remarkably consistent when we look at the 1980s onwards.
According to football statistician Ron Smith, who has compiled data on the English Premier League over the past few seasons, the average number of goals per match is around the 2.5 mark – as the betting lines generally indicate.
As he suggests:
“In a good year, it might be just over 3 goals per game, but that’s quite unusual. In the last two [EPL] seasons, the average goals per game has been (1068/380 games) 2.8 and (1026/380) 2.7. Last season, the opening two rounds produced 51 and 53 goals respectively with an average of over 2.65 goals per game.”
Fast forward to the 2019/20 season, and we see how these numbers also hold true. In the Premier League that season, there was an average of 2.72 goals per game, while similar figures were recorded across the board in each major European first division.
- Belgium: 2.56
- Switzerland: 3.01
- Germany: 3.21
- England: 2.72
- Spain: 2.48
- France: 2.52
The one outliner, as we can see, is Germany’s Bundesliga. It’s important to note that there could be several factors for this. Still, chief among them is the prevailing sentiment among many experts that the Bundesliga today has some of the weakest defences out of Europe’s big six leagues.
Furthermore, many of the games in the second half of the 2019/20 season were played behind closed doors. Quite whether this had a notable impact on the number of goals scored that season remains to be seen, as all of the leagues mentioned were affected differently due to the pandemic.
Which Factors Lead To More Goals In Matches?
With so many variables in a given football match, it can be incredibly tricky to try and pinpoint where exactly a game is won or lost. As we know, home crowds can lift sides, or intimidate visitors, while bad officiating can also massively impact score lines. Nevertheless, when assessing why some sides concede more goals than others, we really have to look at defences and tactical setups for the answer.
To this end, one critical development we see in the modern game is the rise to prominence of possession-based sides, who swarm oppositions and – in turn – starve them of the ball. For this, think of Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp or Manchester City under Pep Guardiola.
In both cases, they possess frighteningly talented attacks but can be gotten at defensively due to the way they set up. High defensive lines often leave gaps behind, which means that neither side will likely set records for the fewest goals conceded in a Premier League season anytime soon.
Interestingly, this record is still held by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side in the 2004/05 season, who conceded just 15 goals that year. While a staggering achievement, it should also be put into context, as that period in the game was widely regarded as an era of better defenders and better-organised defences as a whole.
If Chelsea had a kryptonite that season, it was indeed Liverpool under Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard got the better of Mourinho over two legs in the Champions League Semi-final, deploying equally conservative tactics, which helped the Reds earn a narrow 1-0 aggregate win.
Throughout the history of football, trends such as these have been near-constant. They are essential to grasp when parsing through historical data, as they can help us to understand why the average goals per game may fluctuate wildly from one decade to the next.
Goals Per Game In The Premier League
In the case of the Premier League, we have a more stable sample side to explore, although differences will naturally occur season on season. Over the entire 30 season history of the Premier League, the average goals per game (GPG) comes out to 2.66, which just about exceeds the 2.50 figure that so often gets quoted. However, can we spot any trends within this when we compare the early years of the EPL to more recent seasons?
In short, yes. In the first five seasons of the Premier League, the average goals per game figure for each season didn’t once exceed 2.65. Conversely, between the 2016/17 season and 2021/22, it hasn’t dropped below 2.68. Moreover, during this period, a Premier League high of 2.82 has been recorded twice (2018/19 and 2021/22).
What this may be indicative of a general decline in defensive quality, as we alluded to earlier, it could also show the extent to which the top teams in the league have stretched away from the rest of the pack, as the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City will regularly blow teams away who are in the bottom half of the table.
Indeed, until 2010, no side had ever scored 100 goals or more in a Premier League campaign. Since Chelsea managed it that year, both Liverpool and Manchester City have reached that goal milestone – with the Sky Blues bagging a staggering 106 in 2017/18.
Much in line with what was previously mentioned, the lowest GPG average was recorded in the Mourinho/Benitez era, which was 2.48 in the 2006/07 season (this figure was also matched in 2008/09 when Liverpool nearly won the Premier League under Benitez).
Lowest Average Goals Per Game PL Seasons
|Season||Matches Played||Average Goals per Game||Goals Scored||Most Goals Scored (club)|
|2006/07||380||2.45||931||Man United (80)|
|2005/06||380||2.48||944||Chelsea/ Man United (72)|
|1998/99||380||2.52||959||Man United (80)|
|1996/97||380||2.55||970||Man United (76)|
Highest Average Goals Per Game PL Seasons
|Season||Matches Played||Average Goals per Game||Goals Scored||Most Goals Scored (club)|
|2018/19||380||2.82||1072||Man City (95)|
|2021/22||380||2.82||1071||Man City (99)|
|2011/12||380||2.81||1066||Man City (93)|
|2012/13||380||2.80||1063||Man United (86)|
How Often Do We See Over 2.5 Goals In A Game?
Out of the almost 80,000 games across the world that they have collected data on this season, 55% had over 2.5 goals in them. This correlates to the Premier League data that we have already looked at, where the average number of goals per game was 2.66.
For the 2021/22 EPL season, the percentage of games that had over 2.5 goals was 54%, which once again is hovering around the average. While you might expect that the league’s two best sides, Man City and Liverpool, would lead the way for games over the 2.5 mark, it is, in fact, Leeds United.
The Yorkshire club top the list primarily due to their woeful defensive record, conceding 79 goals in 38 games. Overall, this equated to 66% of their games last season having 2.5 or more goals in them.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Brighton and Hove Albion. With goals hard to come by in what was another frustrating year for the club’s forwards, they hit the 2.5 goals mark just 34% of the time. The most common number for clubs last season was 58%, which was recorded by Arsenal, Aston Villa, Brentford, Southampton, Spurs, and West Ham.
Interestingly, the numbers are slightly higher across the board when it comes to Cup competitions. In the case of the 2021/22 League Cup, which was won by Liverpool, 66% of all games had over 2.5 goals, which equates to an average of 3.18 GPG. The reason for this isn’t entirely apparent, although a few theories could be put forward as to why this might be.
Firstly, cups do inject variability and a degree of chaos into proceedings. Where a club may opt for a more conservative approach in the league to try and secure at least a point, in the cup, there is more freedom to simply throw caution to the wind and instead go for the win.
By the same token, the League Cup throws up ties where the gulf in quality is more significant – as a League Two side could play a Premier League outfit. In such a scenario, big wins can be recorded by the more robust team – bumping up the average goals in the process.
Are We Seeing More Goals Now Than Ever Before?
It’s undoubtedly true that the average number of goals per game in the Premier League had increased over the past decade. However, when we extrapolate the data further still, we see that, in comparison to 70 or 100 years ago, the numbers are still relatively small today.
The highest GPG ever recorded in an English football First Division season was 1889/90. Back then, a scarcely believable 611 goals were scored in 132 matches, producing an average of 4.63 goals across the entire campaign. In the post-war era, the highest average ever recorded was the 1960/61 season – at 3.73.
This puts last season’s average of 2.88 into some perspective and shows just how dominant attacks were in eras gone by. Most certainly, we are seeing more goals today than we did in the 1990s or early 2000s, partly thanks to the dearth of defensive talent in the modern game but also thanks to more attack-minded coaches.
However, the days of ultra-offensive formations like Uruguay’s famous ‘WM’ at the 1950 World Cup (where there were only two outright defenders) are now long gone – and as such, it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever see season averages like 1960/61 ever again.
Line ups for the 1950 FIFA World Cup Final between Brazil and Uruguay:
Instead, what is more, likely is another defensive renaissance, perhaps when the talent pool is more densely populated with elite-level performers.
While subtle differences do arise depending upon the era and league, we generally see how the 2.5 goals per game average have remained steady worldwide. Naturally, this wasn’t always the case, but in the modern era, the 55% rule reinforces the bookmaker notion that an over 2.5 goal bet really is 50-50.
Cups and other niche competitions do have a habit of producing a greater number of goals per game. Still, over a long domestic season, we see very few examples of the average GPG exceeding 2.9. Therefore, in our opinion, one should view the prospect of a game having 2.5 goals or more as just over 50%.