English Premier League setting records and influencing the game

English Premier League setting records and influencing the game

The English Premier League is breaking records and influencing teams globally.

Experts point to many reasons for the increase in scoring and one expert at Kent State University, Curtis Good who teaches a course called Sport in the Global Perspective sees three main factors. The first is because of the implementation of the Video Assistant Referee system otherwise known as VAR. This system, implemented in 2019,  was created to assist on-field referees in making accurate decisions during the games. The VAR team consists of a VAR official, who is usually a former or current referee, three assistants, and a video replay operator. The VAR team monitors the game and is in constant contact with the main match referee in case a questionable call is made during gameplay. The VAR team can only intervene and stop play if there is a clear and obvious error or if a serious missed incident occurred.  These reviewable incidents include checking goals for offside players, checking for penalties in the box, and reviewing if serious fouls are enough to give a direct red card and ejection.

 This adoption of the VAR has brought with it more stoppages in play which in soccer the amount of time play is stopped for will get added on at the end of each half. This added time in previous years would usually be one to three minutes, but now fans can expect 5 to 10 minutes sometimes each half because of how much more play is stopped now.

Results show fans are unhappy. 60% found it worked fairly or very badly in 2020 compared similarly to 2023 as 54% found it made the game less enjoyable after experiencing it for three years. This addition of VAR stops play and stops a lot of momentum teams thrive on, the data though, says more teams are scoring even more since VAR was introduced.

Good says changes to player substitutions have also contributed to the increase in goals. Since 2020, the Premier League has allowed teams to have five subs throughout a game compared to three. Good says this directly increases the scoring. “You know a team might be bringing on a top striker with just 10 minutes to go who’s got completely fresh legs, That’s going to change the goal-scoring extensively,” he said.

“That’s going to change the goal-scoring extensively.”

Curtis Good, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, College of Nursing

The ability to have more substitutions allows teams to add another layer of strategy and almost forces coaches to play two separate games.

The final reason Good points to is on the more tactical side and mentions teams want to play more attacking style football. This style of play helps teams score more but also puts them at risk of conceding goals defensively. Soccer is similar to the NHL in that there is a ranking system based on more than wins and losses. Teams get three points for a win, one point for a draw, and zero for a loss. When teams try to play a more attacking style it is because they are going for the win and all three points instead of playing cautious and being okay with a draw. This strategy is more risky as teams can try to go for all three points and leave themselves more susceptible to losing and receiving zero points.

Teams in the past if they were playing against a tough team, would try their best to play very defensively and their objective would not be to score but to not allow a goal. Good says, “Now and more and more those teams are saying we’re going to lose so we might as well try to score and you know, if we lose five two, we lose five two but it’s more interesting to watch and we’re more active as opposed to just sitting back and owners and supporters are more apt to want that attacking style football.” This offensive strategy can lead to problems for the team defensively which can create back-and-forth affair viewers are seeing more of. The data seems to support Good’s assumption. The Premier League goal totals have seen a gradual increase in the past three seasons from 1,077 in 2022 to now with 46 games left in the season the Premier League goal total sits at 1,166 goals.

2024 numbers are not finalized
Liverpool F.C. Club Decoration (2024)

This idea of playing more attacking is noticeable in a few teams, Good mentions clubs like Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspurs. These clubs are top five in the league this season in scoring but also allowing goals at a high rate. Tottenham and Liverpool FC are more notable clubs that have implemented a style of attack using a tactic called inverted fullbacks. This is when a team uses their outside defensive backs and has them also play more forward into the midfield to have more players in attacking positions to score goals. These defenders usually are known for staying back and ready to defend but now are encouraged to help the team score more often.

Tottenham’s manager Ange Postecoglu does this because his team prefers to play through the middle and it helps him create a man advantage in the midfield and attacking areas. In an interview with The National in Wales, Postecoglu says he does this in part because he believes his players can bring more to the table than just defending. “Both Pedro and Destiny, when they have the ball and they’re running with it, they’re really difficult to stop. It’s an essential area and it makes it more effective.” This change in play is not only influencing the Premier League in England but the Kent State Soccer team has also been able to adopt similar attacking tactics to give them success in their fall 2023 season.  The Kent State Women’s soccer team finished their season losing in the MAC championship to Ohio University but in this campaign, the Flashes scored 32 goals which was third in the conference and 14 more than they scored the season before.

Junior Kelsey Salopek (Center) celebrating a victory with her teammates, Fall 2023

Newly promoted associate head coach Rocky Sasitharan explains how he also notices the trend of what he calls a more position-less sport. He mentions how a fullback in the past was always defensive-minded and only on rare occasions would help the team score, but now it is a staple in many teams. “Now you’re seeing inversions from the fullback position, right, where they slot into the middle of the field.” Sasitharan and the Flashes have implemented a similar tactic from Tottenham and the Premier League and have started to use their fullbacks similarly by bringing their right back, Junior Kelsey Salopek into the midfield.

Sasitharan says, “I think Kelsey is a special player like you have to have the right athlete to be able to do that.”

“I think Kelsey is a special player like you have to have the right athlete to be able to do that.”

Rocky Sasitharan, Associate Head Coach

Salopek who earned First Team All-Mac honors in 2023 says this strategy is something not many teams are ready for and made them effective and entertaining this past season.

“I think it makes it more like free flowing too cause like, everyone’s going everywhere and the ball is moving better. The pace of the play is faster.”

Kelsey Salopek dribbling through the midfield against the University of Akron, Fall 2023

“The pace of the play is faster.”

Junior Kelsey Salopek, Kent State Right Back

This change of play for Salopek is a little familiar for her as she started in the midfield her freshman year and only started this role of being an inverted full-back this season. “That’s where I played all growing up. So, I was comfortable there.” This role seemed like the perfect fit for Salopek and the Flashes and was a catalyst for their season as not many teams knew how to counter this tactic. The Flashes having gained influence from the Premier League are looking to make this tactic a staple in their future.

Sasitharan says, “I think Kelsey is definitely the kid on our roster right now that can do that. I think next year we might have two more.”

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