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How much is a goal worth?

Are some goals in football worth more than others?

Atletico Madrid v Villarreal - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Since the dawn of football, this has been a question frequently asked. Not for all, as the name already indicates, the goal of the game is to score goals. Thus how the first tactics were created, and each culture that adopted football made a twist based on the thinking of the people who brought the game there. As time has passed, tactics have evolved, training methodology have evolved, and even the big data has made their move towards football. But the question is still lingering around all heads.

That question brought a friend of mine and me to create a system to weight, if that’s the word, the importance of the goal depending on when in a match it was scored and what sort of match it was scored in.

The methodology used for this is fairly simple simple. We register the points each team has won during the match and added to their overall results. From there, we divide them between their goals, giving more value to the goal that gets you a one-goal advantage. Why? Well, as the results are aggregated, the one-goal advantage will be a regular difference maker in matches over the course of a season. Also, that one-goal advantage is the fine line between winning and not winning. But not all points are equal because we treat the matches as starting with two points still to be attained. The reasoning is this: when the match has started, you are already guaranteed one point (the 0-0) and so you are looking for the other two to make it three. For example, a match finished 1-0 is worth two points for the offensive, due to their goals, and one point for the defensive, as they kept the lead. To go for the full three points in offense, you need one of this scenarios:

  1. You were losing and made a comeback. ie losing 0-1 before making it 2-1
  2. You got the advantage, but the other team managed to catch-up, either tying or turning the table against you. ie you start winning 1-0, rival team ties and you score the final 2-1 in the last minute

(Editor’s note: this particular piece of the puzzle reminds me a bit of baseball and whether a pitcher gets credit for the win or not. If the team loses the lead after a pitcher is pulled from the game, he isn’t given a loss. If they take the lead while he is in and they hold it, he gets a win.)

With these in mind, draws are also affected by this. A goalless draw counts as one defensive point while the draw with goals counts as one offensive point.

The data we use, the list of scorers from the match, or match report if you want to call it that, comes from the official match report from the referee and we stick to that, unless we can confirm the referee made a blatant mistake as he confused the identity of the scorer. That, after four years looking into the whole top flight of Europe plus another non-European countries and women’s league, have happened thrice: in Poland, Gibraltar and the Spanish women top flight.

So without further ado, let’s look into the top 10 most valuable goal scorers from Spain in the 2020/21 season

Pretty good result for Gerard, finishing 5th behind some very talented players.

Across all European Leagues, Gerard finds himself a little bit further down the table but still doing well, especially considering he played in one of the toughest leagues.

Gerard finished in 40th position overall in Europe.

We decided to compare European leagues at the same base, not weighting for example the difficulty to score in one league compared to another. Our reasoning was simple: we aim to know who has given most points to their team in their league, not project how he would fare in a more competitive league. There’s a lot of reasons why that wouldn’t end up producing significant results.

All in all, this is more of a fun stat. While it can be use for higher purposes, like scouting a forward, only gives one little part of what can make a player important, and thus, their results are not an end of discussion to debates like who is a better forward.

What this attempts to show is which forwards not only score goals, but make a difference with the goals they score. After seeing Atleti win the title last season and Sevilla finish a strong 4th, you can understand why Suarez and En-Nesyri rate as well as they do.

What questions do you have on this metric, and do you think it’s useful?