VAR? Ange? Luton?: What is behind the Premier League’s 2023 goal glut?


Here’s something to fuel the Premier League’s rampant PR machine. When it comes to goals, English soccer fans have rarely had it so good.

Before the latest round of midweek fixtures, the average number of goals per game this season was 3.16 — easily the highest in the league since the competition’s inaugural campaign in 1992 and, according to stats company Opta, the most in England’s top division since the mid-1960s.

Across Tuesday and Wednesday, there were 24 goals in eight games. That basically sustains the seasonal average ahead of the round’s final two matches on Thursday in a league that just sold its domestic TV rights for GBP 6.7 billion ($A12.8 billion) for the next four-year cycle.

That’s around double the value attained in Germany, Spain and Italy.

With overseas broadcasters splashing out just as much money to see the best of English soccer, fans appear to be getting their money’s worth.

But why are the goals flying in in record numbers this season?

Longer games?

The Premier League has committed itself to delivering a more accurate calculation of additional time so games are going on for longer, with second-half stoppage time sometimes extending to 10 minutes or more, like at the World Cup in Qatar.

That means more time to score goals — like when Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham netted in the eighth and 10th minutes of stoppage time to beat Sheffield United 2-1 or when Arsenal struck in the sixth and 11th minutes of added-on time in a 3-1 win over Manchester United.

Another directive has been a clampdown on time-wasting. Again, that’s equated to more opportunities for goals, with the ball in play for more than three-and-a-half minutes longer in league matches this season, according to Opta.

Ange Postecoglou, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on November 26, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Attack-minded coaches

The difference between Burnley’s class of 2023-24 and their team when the club was last in the league sums up the change in coaching philosophy that has swept through the league.

Two years ago, Burnley were led by a pragmatic, defence-first manager in Sean Dyche. Clean sheets were his currency.

This season, Vincent Kompany is in charge and Burnley are attack-minded, possession-hungry and play out from the back.

Look at Tottenham, too. Their previous two managers were Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, who prioritised defending more than attacking. Now, Spurs have Postecoglou, an attack-at-all-costs coach who plays a high defensive line even when down to nine men.

Throw in Andoni Iraola and Rob Edwards, attacking coaches new to the league at Bournemouth and Luton, and there’s a clear emphasis on hiring front-foot managers.

More red cards

There have been 31 red cards — one more than the whole of last season — amid that crackdown on time-wasting and other things like dissent toward match officials.

Teams are making the most of the open spaces against often attack-minded opponents down to 10 men, or against opponents with weaker stand-ins for suspended players.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Ball-playing defenders/goalkeepers

The preference for ball-playing goalkeepers and progressive centre backs, means teams are set up to attack more than defend and raises the potential for mistakes when playing from the back. 

Manchester United’s Andre Onana, for example, has impressed with his passing and ball retention but his shot-stopping ability is under scrutiny. It’s the same with Arsenal’s David Raya, who’s brought a new dimension to the team’s build-up play while his errors let in two goals against Luton on Tuesday.

Weak promoted teams

The three teams who gained promotion last season — Sheffield United, Burnley, Luton — are big favourites to go back down. 

Indeed, they would already be cut adrift as the bottom three if it wasn’t for Everton getting handed a 10-point deduction for financial mismanagement and dropping into the relegation zone. 

Sheffield United have already lost 8-0 to Newcastle and 5-0 to Burnley, who’ve shipped five and four goals to Tottenham and Chelsea, respectively. Luton started the season with a 4-1 loss at Brighton and have just conceded seven goals in their last two games.

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