It’s no secret that in football, most goals are scored in the second half rather than in the first. However, while you might already know this, you may not know why it happens or just how big the gap is.
Here, we will dive into the numbers behind the matches to try and unearth the truth behind this commonly held assumption. This data dive will compare goals scored in the Premier League to continental leagues, as well as international tournaments.
This will hopefully give you a better idea of when to expect goals in a match and how it varies from league to league.
Has There Always Been More Second-half Goals?
In football, it’s always been assumed that more goals are scored in the second 45 period. With both sides feeling their way into the game, the second half is seen as the half in which stubborn defences are broken down, and the attackers are finally able to plot a path to the goal. But has this always been the case?
A good place to start when trying to find this out might be the first-ever FIFA World Cup Final – 1930. In an era before ‘parking the bus’ and ‘Catenaccio’, it’s conceivable that the balance between first and second-half goals might be a bit more even. But is this the reality?
Well, at the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, the results were as follows. It was closer than in more recent tournaments, as 36 second-half goals were scored across the whole competition, compared to 28 in first halves. This was, no doubt, helped by Argentina’s 6-1 demolition of the USA, where five of the six goals were scored in the second half alone.
Suffice to say then, no matter the era, the second half always seems to edge it. However, has that gulf widened in the elapsing 92 years?
Tactical Trends & Impact On When Goals Are Scored
One of the aspects to factor in when it comes to second-half goals scored is, of course, tactical changes. In a football game, for instance, it’s very rare for goals to be scored within the first 15 minutes. At the 2018 World Cup, just 11% of all goals scored came in the first quarter of an hour, as much like in boxing, this early period is often when both sides are feeling each other out, looking for potential gaps to exploit later in the game.
However, this period can sometimes last well into the first half – if not all of it. Another possible explanation from a tactical point of view for there being more second-half goals is quite simply fatigue. Picture the scenario: a lower-half Premier League side is playing against Manchester City at the Etihad. Deploying a low-block, ‘park the bus’ style game plan, they’ve got to half-time with the score still at 0-0.
The only problem is that there is another 45 minutes of football to come, and the defenders are worn out from chasing shadows for an entire half. How often have we seen teams get broken down in the final 10 minutes against the league’s best sides? In many cases, it just comes down to tiredness and, in particular, mental fatigue.
First-Half vs Second-Half Goals In The Premier League
|Played||Total Goals||1st Half||1st %||1st Ave||2nd Half||2nd %||2nd Ave|
Speaking of the Premier League, let’s look at some first-half vs second-half data to get a better idea as to what the disparity really is.
So far in the Premier League this season, the difference has been smaller than you might think. Accounting for every game, 53.1% of all goals scored in 22/23 (up until the beginning of the 2022 FIFA World Cup) came in the second half, compared to 46.9% in the first half.
West Midlands clubs Wolves and Aston Villa possibly legislate for why the ratio is so close, as the former has scored 75% of their goals this season in the first half, with Villa scoring 63%.
By contrast, London clubs Spurs, West Ham and Fulham all scored less than 35% of their 22/23 goals in the first half, very much saving their best for the second period. These stats do pretty much line up with the most recent averages for English football, as between 2016 and 2021, across all four professional divisions, 55.7% of all goals were scored in the second half.
The highest second-half percentage in Premier League terms came in 2017/18, when 58% of all goals were scored after the half-time break.
How Does The PL Compare To Other Major Leagues?
Premier League first-half vs second-half goal statistics have remained fairly consistent, but how do they compare to other major leagues around Europe?
Beginning with the Bundesliga, so far this season there is barely anything between first and second-half goals. However, second-half does still nick it, with 50.7% of all goals coming in the final 45 minutes. A big part of the reason for this could be Bayern Munich, as the German champions scored 60% of their goals this season in the first half, and they the league’s top goalscorers as things stand.
In stark contrast to the Bundesliga, second-half goals comfortably come out on top in La Liga this season. Exactly 54.5% of all goals came in the second period in 2022/23, with the current top four sides in La Liga all grabbing most of their goals in that half too. Curiously, the smallest sample pool out of the four leagues mentioned here was La Liga, as only 356 goals have been scored in the Spanish first division thus far, to the Premier League’s 419.
The Italian first-tier produced a fairly average ratio of first-half to second-half goals so far this season. Indeed, around 53% of the league’s 387 goals came in the second half, with Sampdoria and Udinese being the two leading sides when it came to goals in the second half.
Compare that to bottom of the table Verona, who have scored just three goals in the second-half this campaign, for a very low second-half percentage of just 25%. Current Serie A leaders AC Milan have scored 62% of their goals in the second half.
2022/23 First-Half vs Second-Half Stats
|League||Total goals scored||First-half goals||Second-half goals|
More Goals In The Second Half At The World Cup?
When looking at the 2018 World Cup, what we see is a continuation of the trend we’ve already documented. Indeed, not only were there far more second-half goals than first, it isn’t even close between the two.
In Russia, 103 goals were scored in the second-half of games, to just 63 in the first half. This means that 60% came in the second period, just illustrating how big the gulf is on the international stage. With the World Cup being the biggest prize in football, it’s no wonder that first-half goals are so often hard to come by, as matches at Finals do tend to be very cagey in the opening moments.
Group Stage vs Knockout Rounds
While we now know how many second and first-half goals were scored at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, we don’t know how the dynamic of knockout football changed things – if at all. With this in mind, we’ve looked into goals scored from the Round of 16 onwards in Russia to see if second-half goals still came out on top. As you might have already expected, they most certainly did.
Overall, 26 of the 44 goals scored in normal time of the knockout matches came in the second half, with just 18 coming in the first period. This wasn’t true in the final between Croatia and France, however, as the six goals ( in a 4-2 win for France) were split evenly between the first and second half.
As a comparison to the 2018 World Cup, let us also look at statistics from another recent international tournament – Euro 2020. There were slightly more variables at play when it came to this edition, with it being played across the continent rather than in one host nation and with the stands sparsely populated for the most part due to the pandemic.
However, once again, we see the same trends continuing at the Euros, as there was a total of 83 second-half goals in the competition to just 52 first-half goals. That means that 58.5% of all goals scored at Euro 2020 came in the second half. To break things down further, 30% came in minutes 46-60, with 29% coming in the final 15 minutes. Once again, it’s pretty clear to see that, at the international level, the gap is bigger between first-half and second-half goals – for many of the reasons we have already explained.
While the difference between first-half goals and second might differ, it’s clear that more second-half goals are scored in modern football across the board. The reasons for this are varied, but chiefly, it can be put down to tiredness and teams having longer to break the opposition down.
The fact that this has remained true throughout the ages, even going back to the very first World Cup Finals, shows how universal this rule of thumb actually is. Furthermore, in terms of the deficit between first-half goals and second, it seems to average between 53% to 58% for second-half goals in club football – and up to 60% at international tournaments.
With fitness levels constantly improving in football thanks to scientific and nutritional advancements, it’s tricky to know whether this trend will continue in the future. Still, in the current climate, the stats paint a very clear picture.