The English soccer season has not yet completed its first month, yet it has already produced the highest scoring weekend in the Premier League era.
After four full matchweeks, we’ve already seen scorelines of 6-1, 7-2, 5-2 (x3) and 4-3 (x2). The first three decades of the Premier League established remarkably consistent goal-scoring figures, with the league average between 2.52 and 2.82 goals per game.
Yet through 38 matches played this season, the EPL is averaging 3.79 goals per game. By comparison, the league averaged 2.82 goals per game after four matchweeks last year. If this form holds true, it would be the highest scoring top flight English campaign since 1929-30, a season where Everton scored 80 goals and was still relegated.
While the Premier League leads the goal-scoring charge, other leagues are experiencing record-breaking campaigns as well. The Bundesliga is averaging 3.4 goals/game, the most since 1984-85, while Serie A, currently scoring 3.5 goals per match, is on pace for its highest scoring season ever.
The question is, what’s causing this sudden offensive outburst?
During the Manchester City vs. Leeds match over the weekend, commentators Arlo White and Lee Dixon hypothesized that scoring is up in England because of the lack of fans. The Man City match ended as a 1-1 draw but was a masterclass of attacking football.
An end-to-end affair, the teams combined for 35 shots in what was one of the most absorbing matches in a highly entertaining season.
White and Dixon suggested that players are incentivized to take more attacking risks in empty stadiums as there are no fans present to criticize them for making mistakes. While this makes sense in theory, goal-scoring increases have not been uniform across major European leagues.
Offense might be up in Serie A and the Bundesliga, but the EFL Championship is averaging just 2.06 goals/match (vs. 2.64 last season), which would be its lowest total ever by some distance, and Ligue 1 is heading for a very average goal-scoring campaign.
Even after play resumed in England back in June, Premier league matches averaged 2.74 goals scored for the remainder of the 19-20 season (vs. a pre-lockdown total of 2.71 goals/game), a very typical goal/game average.
If goals supposedly increased without fans, then why was there no increase last season after play resumed in empty stadiums?
Sure, Chelsea has its new attacking signings and newly-promoted Fulham doesn’t have a single reputable defender, but that doesn’t begin to explain how two defensive sides, Leicester and Burnley, combined for six goals against each other, or how Man United allowed six against Spurs or even how Aston Villa got seven past Liverpool.
Defending has seemingly been bypassed in the Premier League, yet just a division below, the Championship continues to do its own thing (as always); the league has seen 25 teams shutout in just 48 matches.
It’s maddingly perplexing.
Whatever the cause, it has supplied some of the most entertaining attacking football in recent memory.
This leaves us to wonder, could this attacking revolution be the next major development in an ever-evolving Premier League?