Oct 17, 2017
Oct 17, 2017

Analysing the myths in European soccer

Which European soccer league is the most entertaining?

Are our perceptions of different soccer leagues correct?

How can goals and shots data help with soccer betting?

Analysing the myths in European soccer

Different European soccer leagues are perceived to have varying levels of entertainment – but how accurate are these perceptions or 'myths'? Read this article to find out how entertainment value, namely how many goals and shots there are per game, can help with soccer betting when it comes to the top four European soccer leagues.

When betting on soccer across various different leagues, it’s good to know the standard level for different statistics in those countries. This is particularly true as people can have very fixed ideas about a nation’s soccer. For instance, Italy is seen to have a very defensive mindset whereas the Premier League is often considered the most exciting league in the world. These are examples of European soccer myths.

But are these perceptions actually true? Knowing the answers to this question can help guide our betting choices and, thankfully, data on goals and shots is widely available online.

Measuring goals scored

If we wanted to measure defensiveness by how many goals are scored then, when compared to other top European leagues, Serie A does appear the most defensive. Indeed, the figures in the below table cover the last five full seasons from 2012/13 to 2016/17 and indicate that the lowest goals-per-game tally lies in Italy.

Goals Per Game

League Matches Goals Goals Per Game
Bundesliga 1530 4451 2.91
La Liga 1900 5306 2.79
Premier League 1900 5180 2.73
Serie A 1900 5164 2.72

This picture may be changing, however. Excluding post-season playoffs and final rounds, the 2016/17 Serie A season saw the ninth-highest goals per game in the country’s history and the most since 1950/51.

It’s early days for the 2017/18 campaign but, prior to the October international break, Serie A had averaged the 13th most goals per game in its history. Is the tide turning with regards to Italy’s defensive mindset? Time will tell.

It is also noticeable in the above table that the Premier League is behind both Germany and Spain for goals. Looking at the last 20 seasons, not one campaign from the Premier League makes the top seven for goals per game (though they do have places eight to ten).

Measuring shots taken

Goals are relatively rare events, though. If we want to determine levels of entertainment, perhaps the number of shots is a better measurement as there are approximately ten times more of them than goals in soccer. Let’s take a look at the 2016/17 season in the same four leagues. In terms of goals, the Premier League saw the fewest per game.

Yet it didn’t see the fewest shots, as the below table illustrates:

Shots Per Game

League Games Total Shots Shots Per Game Total Shots On Target Shots On Target Per Game
Serie A 380 10059 26.5 3546 9.3
Premier League 380 9729 25.6 3288 8.7
Bundesliga 306 7636 25.0 2703 8.8
La Liga 380 9143 24.1 3387 8.9

However, England did see the fewest shots on target per match, which may explain why it saw the fewest goals too. Italy lead the way in terms of both shots and shots on target.

Individual matches

Serie A’s entertainment value is further emphasised if we look at which league had the most or least exciting individual matches. In the table above, only 2.4 shots per game separate the leagues from top to bottom. These are averages, however, so let’s look at individual games.

There were 1,446 games in the four leagues in 2016/17. Roughly 10 per cent of them saw more than 32 shots in total and a similar amount contained fewer than 19 goal attempts. If we class these as the most and least exciting games the top leagues had to offer, how many did each country have?

Individual Match tallies

33 or more shots
% of matches
18 or fewer shots
% of matches
Serie A
Premier League
La Liga

The order of the countries hasn’t changed from the total shots table but it certainly highlights more of a glaring difference. It seems surprising that over twice as many Italian games fell into the top bracket for entertainment than Spanish matches did – and yet that’s exactly what happened.

But even total shots in a match can be deceptive in the hunt for exciting games. When trying to determine entertainment value, we want close matches which feature end-to-end action. If there are 40 shots in a match but one side has 35 of them, that may not be as exciting as when both teams have 20 (as a basic example).

One-sided matches

Approximately 10% of games featured one side having fifteen or more shots greater than their opponents last season, while 14.2% saw no more than one shot difference either way. Interestingly, the Bundesliga saw the highest proportion of close matches in this regard:

One-sided Matches

More than 14 shots difference
% of matches
No more than 1 shot difference
% of matches
Premier League
La Liga
Serie A

Serie A may have seen a lot of shots but it also saw the fewest games with a close shot difference (although the difference between Italy, Spain and England is negligible).

There is one final way to potentially measure entertaining games: how often teams come from behind to win. It’s interesting to note the order of countries is the same as it was previously, which makes sense, though the following table is for the last five seasons and not just 2016/17.

Teams Scoring First

League Games with at least 1 goal Wins Draws Losses Win % Draw % Loss %
Bundesliga 1426 964 265 197 67.6% 18.6% 13.8%
Premier League 1746 1215 316 215 69.6% 18.1% 12.3%
La Liga 1761 1247 303 211 70.8% 17.2% 12.0%
Serie A 1761 1207 344 210 68.5% 19.5% 11.9%


So what have we learned in this article? It seems the Premier League isn’t as entertaining as it is made out to be based on any of these measures, while Serie A isn’t as defensively focused as one might think.

As always, trends are useful but they have to be treated with caution when betting. The Bundesliga may have seen the highest proportion of turnaround matches but, if Bayern Munich score first, they win a remarkable 91% of the time. Barcelona are another example who are way above average on this front, winning 90% of matches where they score the opening goal.

However, the data presented above still disproves certain European soccer myths and shows bettors the value of research into specific leagues – and, going further, the different teams within those leagues.

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