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The Premier League has struggled for goals this season, with 40 PER CENT of sides scoring fewer than a goal a game... so just why has the top flight become a goal-shy zone?

  • As many as eight Premier League teams have scored fewer than a goal a game
  • There is a dearth of goals in the bottom half of the division, where it is tight 
  • Sportsmail investigates why teams are struggling to find the net in the top flight 

While the world has been blown away by the attacking potential of Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs this season, a less positive trend has emerged elsewhere in the Premier League.

Astonishingly, no fewer than eight of the 20 clubs – 40 per cent — are scoring at less than a-goal-a-game this season, and that would have been nine had Newcastle not hit three against hapless Southampton at the weekend. The 'problem' goes up as far as seventh-placed Burnley who have registered 27 goals in 30 games.

The statistics could have worrying consequences for the image of Premier League entertainment if it develops into a longer-term trend.

Last season, only the three relegated teams Hull, Middlesbrough and Sunderland scored fewer than 38 goals from their 38 games, the previous season just two clubs West Brom and Aston Villa reached that target.

We investigate the reasons why this year a significant section of the 'best league in the world' has become a goal-shy zone. For the record, the eight teams averaging less than a goal a game are: Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Huddersfield, Southampton, Stoke, Swansea and West Brom. Newcastle have scored 30 in 30 games.

 

GAP BETWEEN TOP AND BOTTOM

The presence of world-class managers at the top end of the Premier League, men like Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp, have made the big clubs better. Results in the Champions League this season underline that.

The consequence for everyone else is that facing those teams is about damage limitation rather than trying to give it a go and trying to win games.

When Newcastle were beaten 2-0 at Liverpool two weeks ago, there was a sense they were happy to escape with that to avoid further damage to their goal difference. Ditto Stoke City in Monday night's loss by the same score against Manchester City.

Of the last 126 league games played between the Big Six and the rest, it's only happened twice that the lower-ranked side has scored three or more goals – Swansea's 3-1 victory against Arsenal in January, and Watford's 4-1 win over Chelsea at the start of February.

More typical was the last round of games when Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Watford and Stoke scored just two goals in total against Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. Bournemouth apart, there was little intent from kick off to try and hurt the opposition.

There was a sense Newcastle were happy to avoid further damage against Liverpool at Anfield

There was a sense Newcastle were happy to avoid further damage against Liverpool at Anfield

 

THE AMOUNT OF RELEGATION SIX-POINTERS

Given the Big Six aren't giving much away this season, the pressure has intensified among the rest of the 14 clubs when they face each other.

Every point is precious in those games and the priority has often been not to concede given the financial consequences of relegation.

Saturday's tense battle between Huddersfield and Swansea ended 0-0 after the visitors launched a desperate rearguard action with 10 men following Jordan Ayew's dismissal. The previous weekend, it was Southampton and Stoke locked in a goalless draw.

Promoted sides Brighton and Huddersfield have both deservedly received credit this season

Promoted sides Brighton and Huddersfield have both deservedly received credit this season

Promoted sides Brighton and Huddersfield have both deservedly received credit for their results this season but part of their success has been keeping matches tight, with four 0-0 draws each.

Brighton's goalless draws have come against Burnley, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Watford – games in which they needed to pick up points and couldn't afford to lose. 

Huddersfield have drawn 0-0 home and away against Burnley, while Swansea have also collected four goalless draws this season.

 

LACK OF TOP-CLASS STRIKERS

Formation changes have seen many clubs play with just one recognised striker. Aspiring players these days have a better chance of making it as a No10 or holding midfielder and with top clubs taking the best centre-forwards, the rest are left with strikers holding very average goalscoring records.

Famously, Stoke City's £15million purchase Saido Berahino hasn't scored a goal for two years. Southampton paid a club-record £19million for Monaco's Guido Carrillo in January and he hasn't scored yet in eight matches.

Ditto, Crystal Palace are waiting for a goal from Alexander Sorloth (£9million), a natural No 9 who has been pushed wide to accommodate Christian Benteke. 

Stoke City's £15million purchase Saido Berahino hasn't scored a goal for two years

Stoke City's £15million purchase Saido Berahino hasn't scored a goal for two years

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez was so desperate for a striker in January, he signed the injured Islam Slimani on loan from Leicester. The Algerian still hasn't been fit enough to play.

Eighteen of the 21 leading scorers in the Premier League play for the Big Six. Eleven clubs still haven't got a player who has scored more than seven goals, the amount claimed by Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho before he left in the New Year.

West Brom's leading scorer is £15million Salomon Rondon with five, the same number reached by Newcastle's top marksman Dwight Gayle. Poor Albion are the lowest scorers in the league with 23goals – fewer than Harry Kane or Mo Salah.

 

THE AGE OF DEFENSIVE MANAGERS

While Guardiola, Klopp and Arsene Wenger are naturally attacking coaches at the top end of the table, it shouldn't hide the fact that clubs lower down have turned to managers with reputations for prioritising defence.

Not surprising given there have been nine managerial changes in the Premier League this season, with the incoming bosses given the specific instruction of keeping their clubs in the division.

Roy Hodgson (Crsytal Palace), David Moyes (West Ham), Sam Allardyce (Everton) and Paul Lambert (Stoke City) have never won awards for artistic impression and letting their players off the leash.

Chris Hughton (Brighton) and Rafa Benitez (Newcastle) also pride themselves for making their teams organised and hard to beat. Even Sean Dyche (Burnley), a candidate for manager of the year, doesn't care if his team pick up points rather than become involved in high-scoring thrillers.

Burnley's 30 league matches this season have yielded a very modest total of 53 goals, 27 for and 26 against, not that Clarets diehards will care a jot.

Burnley's 30 league matches this season have yielded a very modest total of 53 strikes

Burnley's 30 league matches this season have yielded a very modest total of 53 strikes

 

WHAT'S NEXT?

Football is cyclical and Premier League bosses selling their wares around the world will hope this season's famine is a blip. However, there have to be concerns it will continue into next season as well.

While Manchester City and Manchester United lead the charge for the best and most expensive players, and Spurs and Liverpool aren't going anywhere, the gulf between top and bottom looks set to grow, having a detrimental effect on competition and therefore goals spread through the league.

The best-case scenario is that those more adventurous managers in mid-table or at the bottom, like Bournemouth's Eddie Howe, are successful, and emulated. Also, clubs like Leicester need to fight for as long as they can to keep their attacking gems Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez so the goalscorers aren't all stockpiled at the big clubs.

Looking at Arsenal and Chelsea, it may also be that two of the Big Six slip back to the pack in the next few years. It's up to clubs like Everton and Leicester to take advantage, and doing it by getting on the front foot.

It's not usually a good idea to tinker with long-established rules – introducing bonus points for goalscoring would add an extra layer of complication – but the Premier League will be anxious. To have nearly half the league scoring less than a-goal-per-game is not a good global look. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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