by Adam Bate
Sam Wallace (The Independent): “You go to Stoke, they’ve got an identity. You go to Bolton and that club’s got an identity. When I watch Serie A you don’t feel that so much about the smaller clubs there.”
Shaun Custis (The Sun): “You watch Serie A do you? I didn’t think people did that anymore. Genuinely, I didn’t.”
Neil Ashton (Daily Mail): “If you watch the last couple of weeks both the games have been 0-0 draws.”
Shaun Custis (The Sun): “Italian football has dropped off the map. You do get the feeling there is so much more competition in this country – you do feel that teams at the bottom can win the big games at any point.”
Sunday Supplement, Sky Sports, 25/09/2011
It’s quite an exchange and while it kicked up a storm on Twitter it may well have tapped into a common view among English football fans.
Thankfully, some of these views can be challenged by looking at the statistics.
Neil Ashton’s facile point that the recent televised games had ended goalless suggests he is of the view that there are fewer goals scored in Italian football. Is this true?
In short, yes it is. Over the past three seasons there have been 2935 goals in Serie A at an average of 2.57 per game. In the Premier League there have been 3058 goals at an average of 2.68 per game.
Interestingly, however, Ashton may be surprised to note that in two of the past three seasons there have been more goalless draws in the Premier League than in Serie A. In total, in the last three completed seasons there have been 98 goalless draws in England compared to 82 in Italy.
So why are there both more goals and more goalless draws in the Premier League than in Serie A? That may have something to do with the heavy beatings that the top teams in England are capable of dishing out on a regular basis – and it strikes at the heart of the debate about competitiveness…
Custis’s claim that the teams at the bottom of the Premier League can win the big games at any point is an interesting one.
If it were true that England’s weakest sides were getting better results against the top teams than their Italian equivalent then that would certainly indicate a greater competitiveness. But it isn’t true.
Comparing the results of the bottom three sides against the top three sides in both England and Italy is revealing in so much as what it does not reveal. It does not bring to light these miraculous results that justify Custis’s “feeling” he gets.
In 2010-11 the three relegated teams from the Premier League (Birmingham City, Blackpool and West Ham United) managed one win, three draws and 14 defeats against England’s top three (Man Utd, Chelsea and Man City).
That one win was for Birmingham against Chelsea (memorable for you Shaun?) and, admittedly, it’s one more than the Serie A sides managed. However, Italy’s bottom three (Bari, Brescia and Sampdoria) did get seven draws against Serie A’s top three (Milan, Inter and Napoli) meaning that they took more points off the top sides than their English equivalent.
Perhaps Custis and co were hinting at a more general competitiveness than is shown in the results. But a look at other key performance indicators only serves to highlight the competitiveness of the Italian league.
The spread of average possession stats for 2010-11 – per the WhoScored website using Opta statistics – show a greater disparity in England (38% to 60%) than in Italy (43% to 59%).
The pass completion rates tell a similar story. The spread in England is from 64% to 84% but in Italy there is remarkably consistent with Lecce bottom of the pile with a respectable 73%.
It’s a similar story so far in 2011-12 and the early indications are that Serie A is set for a wide open title race with just three points separating the top eight.
It adds weight to the argument of Italian football expert James Horncastle when he says: “At this moment in time Serie A is the most competitive it’s ever been.”
The notion of identity is a more difficult matter to prove. And yet, it should come as no surprise that an English person should detect a greater sense of identity among English clubs.
Sam Wallace points out Bolton Wanderers are a club that he sees as having a clear identity – but one wonders whether this identity resonates among the Italian public?
It’s tempting to conclude that this supposed contrast between England and Italy reveals nothing more than the journalist’s own ignorance.
Perhaps it’s best to leave the final word on this topic to James Richardson, former presenter of Football Italia on Channel 4, who says: “There is no country with a stronger regional identity than Italy and it is absolutely expressed through the clubs.”