The Premier League now has more 0-0 scorelines than Serie A

icon nilnil16 November ~ In the first ten rounds of Serie A only two out of 100 games finished goalless. In round 11 there were three and one more in round 12. Even so, six goalless draws in 120 games in a country once synonymous with this result deserves some explanation.

There were 81 goalless draws in 480 games in the last two seasons of the 16-team Serie A (1986 to 1988) and 58 in 306 games in the first season of the 18-team era. Things then started to change and in 1992-93 there were only 27 goalless draws, but with signs that the old ways might be returning, Italy finally went to three points for a win in 1994-95.

This is now the 12th season with 20 teams in Serie A, and current trends point to a goals per game average of 2.6 or 2.7 and between 20 and 30 goalless draws a season. Well down on the bad old days, but before this season there have never before been only two goalless draws in the opening ten rounds.

To understand one of the possible reasons for what is clearly now a trend, it is helpful to know that once all Italian league tables featured something called “media inglese” (English average). This said, basically, that to become champions you needed to average three points from every two games. So if a team had 31 points from 20 games, their media inglese was plus one, and if they had 29 points it was minus one.

This tells us something important about Italian football in the era of two points for a win. Draws were highly prized even by the top clubs. In the first six seasons I saw Atalanta in Serie A they drew 0-0 at home with Juventus three times. Since 1995-96 they have managed one win, three draws and 11 defeats, the last eight consecutively. For Juventus a draw in Bergamo is now two points lost and not a point gained.

I am fairly sure that the reason why there were once so many goalless draws is only partly due to the skill of Italian defenders. I think that many goalless draws were the result of a more or less tacit agreement between the two clubs. If a draw suits both teams, 0-0 is easier than 1-1 because it does not involve a team having to equalise.

In 1987-88 Atalanta won 14 and drew 19 of their 38 games in Serie B and it was enough for promotion. (In 1998-99, with three points for a win, exactly the same record secured only a sixth-place finish.) Looking back and with the greater cynicism I now possess, I am sure that many of those draws were not the result of both teams looking for a win from first minute to last.

So perhaps three points for a win is one explanation for the decrease in goalless draws and the increased scoring rate in Serie A. There are others, of course. Defenders are probably not as good as they were. And in a 20-team division there are more weak teams than there were when the teams were 16 or 18. 

Another factor may be the predominance of foreign players not steeped in the Italian football culture. By the time they arrive here it is probably too late to change most of them, though Roberto Mancini seems to be making a fairly good job of it at Inter this season. But this is probably the exception. It is noticeable that there are lots of goalless draws in Lega Pro (Level Three), where most players are still Italian.

I never imagined that the day would come when there were more goalless draws in the English top flight than in Serie A, but it has. As for me, I have seen goals, 131 of them, in my last 40 games. Richard Mason

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