Why Premier League has more stoppage time goals than other top leagues
The Premier League frequently casts itself as Europe’s most exciting league, boasting of its unpredictability, its open title race and its frenetic tempo. There’s one other crucial factor in its reputation as an entertaining, thrilling and crazy spectacle, though: its propensity for late goals. None of the other major European leagues comes close to England’s top-flight for late drama.
In 2016-17, the Premier League’s 25th season, there were no fewer than 68 goals scored in second-half stoppage time, which works out to be 6.3 percent of all goals scored last season (around 0.18 goals per game). La Liga’s tally was 61, Serie A’s 59 and Ligue 1’s only 54. The Bundesliga managed only 50, though this is partly because it has an 18-team league and plays considerably fewer games. Extrapolate for a 20-game season, and it would have been 62 goals, still not enough to compete with the Premier League.
What is peculiar about the Premier League compared to its European rivals is that the division boasts a particularly high number of goals scored in first-half stoppage time as well. Last season, there were 35 during this period, as many as La Liga (20) and Serie A (15) combined. In the Bundesliga, there were just 14 — again, there are fewer games played here — and only 10 in Ligue 1.
Part of the reason for this is simple: More first-half stoppage time is played in the Premier League, with 2.9 minutes at the end of the first half on average, significantly ahead of the other leagues, which ranged between 1.4 and 2.0. However, this doesn’t entirely explain the significantly higher goal tally here, and that old catchphrase that “just before half-time is the best time to score” seems to be particularly well-observed in England.
Indeed, Premier League stoppage time for both halves averaged 7 minutes, 59 seconds last season, a considerably higher figure than anywhere else in Europe, which recorded between 5:16 and 6:35 in this respect.
Quite why English matches are prolonged to this extent is questionable. There are not notably more stoppages in English football, and it might be more about referees being stricter with timekeeping. In the Bundesliga, in particular, it isn’t unusual for referees to signal curiously short periods of stoppage time to the fourth official.
The most efficient “second-half stoppage time” side in Europe’s major five leagues last season, however, were Bayern Munich. They managed nine goals during this period — joint-best with Arsenal — but their record was particularly impressive considering their matches had less stoppage time than any other club in Europe.
Watford, by stark contrast, saw an average of 8:41 added onto their games, the highest in the Premier League, and well over double Bayern’s 3:46. In fact, 19 of the top 20 clubs in this respect were from the Premier League, with the only exception being Serie A’s Fiorentina, who replaced Leicester.
There you have it: The Premier League’s drama is in part because it features so many late goals, which owes much to the fact that its referees play more stoppage time. Here are five of the most memorable.
Steve Bruce, Man United 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday (1992-93)
The goal that started the concept of “Fergie Time.” Manchester United were title favourites following a crushing 3-1 victory over title rivals Norwich City the previous Monday, but they were seriously wobbling in a seemingly simple home match against Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls took the lead through a John Sheridan penalty, and from then on, United were desperate for a goal, throwing men forward almost manically.
Bruce proved the surprising scorer of a crucial 85th-minute equaliser, and then, unbelievably, popped up again deep into stoppage time to score another header, prompting Alex Ferguson and Brian Kidd to spill onto the Old Trafford pitch in delight. The reason for the large amount of stoppage time, incidentally, was simple: Referee Michael Peck suffered an injury in the second half and had to be replaced by Jon Hilditch, causing a significant delay.
Stan Collymore, Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle (1995-96)
In a match that is now almost officially considered the best in the history of the Premier League, Liverpool snatched victory in the dying seconds of their clash against Kevin Keegan’s title-chasing Newcastle.
Roy Evans had thrown on Ian Rush in the closing stages as an extra centre-forward, which meant Collymore had to play on the left flank. As Rush and John Barnes made inroads through the centre before getting in one another’s way, Collymore was left unmarked on the left, and after Liverpool switched the ball wide, he blasted home. Martin Tyler’s famous commentary summarised the time frame: “Collymore closing in! Liverpool lead in stoppage time!”
Wayne Rooney, Everton 2-1 Arsenal (2002-03)
Rooney’s return to Everton has been one of the major talking points of this summer’s transfer window, but this goal came when we were first introduced to English football’s greatest talent of the 21st century. The goal itself was memorable, a dipping drive past England’s No. 1 David Seaman and in off the crossbar, but the context was also crucial. Arsenal were champions, hadn’t lost in 30 games, and Arsene Wenger was busy telling everyone that his side could go unbeaten all season. He didn’t bank upon Rooney’s debut Premier League goal, underlining that Rooney was a man for the big occasion.
Arsenal eventually went unbeaten the following season and their run stopped one short of 50 games, thanks in part to Wayne Rooney, now of Manchester United. This, however, remains arguably his greatest moment.
Michael Owen, Man United 4-3 Man City (2009-10)
Ballon d’Or winner Michael Owen had relatively little impact at Manchester United, but he did provide one memorable moment. At the end of a fast and furious Manchester derby, enlivened by the return of Carlos Tevez to Old Trafford, Manchester United went ahead three times and were pegged back three times, including once by Craig Bellamy in stoppage time. But in the 96th minute, Ryan Giggs’ pinpoint pass was slid to Owen in the inside left-position, and he calmly slotted the ball into the far corner.
City manager Mark Hughes complained about the six minutes of stoppage time, but that was partly caused by their own players’ excessively celebrating Bellamy’s equaliser.
Sergio Aguero, Manchester City 3-2 QPR, 2013-14
Without question, the Premier League’s most famous moment. This was a truly ludicrous game: Manchester City, who had the best home record in the league, needed to beat QPR, who had the best away record in the league. They went 1-0 up through Pablo Zabaleta, but Djibril Cisse equalised for the away side. Then came more drama: Former City midfielder Joey Barton was dismissed, leaving QPR down to 10 men. But then Jamie Mackie scored a counter-attacking goal, and City needed two goals, going into stoppage time.
Somehow, they managed it. They attempted 44 shots in the game, breaking the Premier League record, and scored with their 43rd and 44th. Edin Dzeko nodded in a David Silva corner, and almost immediately, Sergio Aguero was slipped in by Mario Balotelli, steadied himself and fired the ball home to seal City’s first Premier League title.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.