If it seems to you that scoring is down in La Liga this season, you’re right. In fact, the current average goals per game—2.54—is the lowest since the 2006-07 season. And compared to other European leagues, La Liga is only beaten, if that’s the word, by Ligue Un in France, with an average of 2.5 goals per match. (If you throw out PSG’s matches, the French league is even more dire, as that team has scored 3+ goals per game on average). What’s going on?
As the article points out, Barcelona are on pace to match last year’s goal total. Madrid, not so much. But while the departure of one player can affect one team’s performance a great deal (i.e Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Madrid) those 25 goals over 38 matches are only 0.7 goals per game less for his team, but only about 0.07 less for the league as a whole. And that is assuming none of his 25 goals are ‘replaced’ by other players getting their opportunities. So that’s not a good explanation.
What about VAR? I’m not the best judge because I tend to watch Villarreal matches but (I confess) not a ton else—I’m just too busy. My sense is VAR is more-or-less neutral: there have been some goals waved off that would have counted otherwise, there have also been some penalties given and goals allowed that would not have been given in the past. Regardless, even if the use of VAR results in a net one less goal per weekend, that still is only a 0.1 decline in goals per game.
Tactics? Maybe. 2.5 goals per game is 70 goals through 28 matches, and the “anti-football” of Atletico Madrid (58 goals/2.07 GPG), Getafe (60 goals), Alavés (62) and Valencia (53!) is noticeable for its success, with all teams in the top seven. At the bottom end of the spectrum are Levante (87 goals/3.1 GPG), Celta and Sevilla (83/2.96 GPG) and Rayo (81; 2.92 GPG).
It’s true that in 2016-17 (which was quite high-scoring) Atleti matches had 2.55GPG, versus 2.1 GPG last year. But again, one team, averaged over the entire league, doesn’t explain what happened. Villarreal matches averaged 2.8 goals that season and last; this season, 2.42.
More even competition? Compared to 2016-17, perhaps. Or maybe that season was an outlier. Osasuna matches averaged 3.5 GPG (unfortunately for them, 2.5 of those goals were scored by their opponents); Las Palmas, who finished 14th, nearly matched that, while the other two relegated sides, Granada and Sporting, had about 3 goals per game in their matches.
2017-18 was lower overall, though Celta, La Real and Depor all averaged 3 goals per match they played in, and only the last was relegated. But then again, that’s not much different from the most porous teams this season, also around 3 GPG.
Players leaving for other leagues? I said earlier one player (Ronaldo) wouldn’t affect matters, but what if it were a bunch? Of the top 15 scorers in 2016-17, 4 (CR7, Neymar, Florin Andone, Cedric Bakambu) have left La Liga; two others departed but have returned (Morata and Sandro Ramirez), while two others, Aduriz and Rubén Castro, have essentially aged out. That is not particularly striking one way or the other.
Something is going on. If you look at the graph of goals scored since 2006, in eight of those years, the goals scored were between 2.66 and 2.76 goals per game. While the three seasons with goals around 2.9 goals per game were clearly outliers, something is going on this season. What are your thoughts? And does goals scored equate to entertainment value?