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Will the Increase in Scoring Last?

(FC Seoul during the better times.  2012 League Winners- from forums.bigsoccer.com)
It is obvious that more goals are being scored in the K-League this year.  How much has scoring increased from last year?  Will it last for the year or drop-off at some point?

The K-League: some love it, others hate it, but most are indifferent to its existence, especially if you look at the weekly attendance numbers.  There are a variety of reasons why, even though almost half the population identify as fans of soccer, the league is treated like the bastard step child.  There are many causes for this, but one factor could be the lack of excitement for the general fan as teams struggle to a score goals in an overly defensive contest.  Therefore, in an effort to hopefully boost attendance rates and/or interest in general, the K-League has put an emphasis on scoring by trying to reward attacking play (I assume that is the reason).

In other words, they have announced that goals for rather than goal differential will be the deciding factor in breaking any ties.  The thinking behind this rule change, I believe, is that more goals will equal more excitement.  In turn, more excitement would equal more fans attending the game.  I am not sure if more fans are coming or not, but it feels like more goals are being scored this year.  Lets compare the teams in 2015 and 2016 after 12 games.  I used soccerway.com to compile the information for this chart.

K-League Classic Scoring: 2015 vs. 2016
#
Team
P
GF (avg.)
#
Team
P
GF (avg.)
1
Jeonbuk Motors
12
19 (1.58)
1
Jeonbuk Motors
11
21 (1.91)
2
Suwon Bluewings
11
18 (1.64)
2
FC Seoul
11
22 (2.0)
3
Jeju United
12
15 (1.25)
3
Seongnam FC
12
21 (1.75)
4
Pohang Steelers
12
17 (1.42)
4
Ulsan
12
13 (1.08)
5
Ulsan
12
16 (1.33)
5
Jeju United
11
22 (2.0)
6
Seongnam FC
11
11 (1.0)
6
Gwangju FC
11
12 (1.09)
7
Incheon United
12
11 (0.92)
7
Sangju Sangmu
12
22 (1.83)
8
FC Seoul
11
12 (1.09)
8
Pohang Steelers
12
13 (1.08)
9
Jeonnam Dragons
12
12 (1.0)
9
Suwon Bluewings
12
18 (1.5)
10
Gwangju FC
12
14 (1.17)
10
Suwon FC
12
10 (0.83)
11
Busan I'Park
12
10 (0.83)
11
Jeonnam Dragons
12
11 (0.92)
12
Daejeon Citizen
11
7 (0.58)
12
Incheon United
12
9 (0.75)
Total
140
162 (1.16)
Total
140
194 (1.39)

In the first twelve weeks this year 32 more goals have been scored that last year, which means the league average for goals overall is up by 20% in 2016.  This year, with the exception of Ulsan and Gwangju, teams in the top six are scoring more than 1.5 goals a game, whereas last year only Jeonbuk and Suwon Bluewings scored more than 1.5 goals.  Sangju Sangmu, who sit in 7th place, have scored more goals this year than the top two teams last year.

Three of the teams this year, Jeju (47%), FC Seoul (83%), and Seongnam (91%) are greatly responsible for the surge since they have substantially increased the amount of goals that they have scored in the first 12 games compared to last year.  However, even teams that have scored less this year than last, such as Gwangju, Jeonnam, and Incheon, are only off by a one or two goals.

I was also curious to see if the improvement in scoring for teams translated to the amount of goals scored in games.  To do so, I again looked at soccerway.com for the results for the first 12 games in 2015 and the first 12 in 2016.

K-League Classic Week by Week Scoring Comparison: 2015 v. 2016
Week
P
Goals (avg.)
Week
P
Goals (avg.)
1
6
12 (2)
1
6
15 (2.5)
2
6
14 (2.33)
2
6
13 (2.17)
3
6
17 (2.83)
3
6
17 (2.83)
4
6
13 (2.17)
4
6
18 (3.0)
5
6
13 (2.17)
5
6
15 (2.5)
6
6
14 (2.33)
6
6
16 (2.67)
7
6
13 (2.17)
7
6
14 (2.33)
8
6
14 (2.33)
8
6
17 (2.83)
9
6
18 (3.0)
9
6
20 (3.33)
10
6
11 (1.83)
10
5
17** (3.4)
11
6
11 (1.83)
11
5
16** (3.2)
12
4
11* (2.75)
12
616 (2.67)
70
161 (2.3)
70
194 (2.77)
* 4 games were postponed.  ** 2 games were postponed.

Teams have improved in attack and this has correlated to more goals being scored week in and week out.  With the exception of the second week, every other week in 2016 has seen an increase on its counterpart in 2015.  Just as with the increase in the league scoring average, there has been an increase of 20% more goals scored in games week by week.  This has led, depending on whom you support, to a much more exciting and interesting season.

What has caused this spike in scoring?

If someone from the K-League office was asked this question, they would probably point to the mandate counting goals for rather than goal differential as the reason why there has been an increase in scoring.  The officials would argue that because it rewards attacking play, more teams are prioritizing putting the ball in the back of the net rather than trying to prevent the other team from scoring.    Maybe that is true, but I think there is another more obvious explanation.

As a long time fan of FC Seoul, for me the two previous years have been absolutely dreadful.  It felt like I was watching a never ending series of dull matches that finished 0-0, 1-0, 0-1, or 1-1.  The start of 2014, when Seoul lost to Jeonnam on a freezing day in March 1-0 after Osmar tripped a player in the box, should have served as an omen that it was going to be a long and miserable year.  Seoul struggled to score goals and Choi changed the team philosophy from one of attacking to that of being solid at the back.  It was understandable as Seoul lost important players such as Dejan and Ha Dae-sung to the Chinese Super League and Adi retired.  This philosophical switch worked, albeit luckily, as Seoul only allowed 28 goals all year and finished 3rd.  However, there are not many great memories from that season as Seoul's approach seemed to be geared towards attrition rather than any sort of artistic expression whatsoever.

In 2015, things became a bit better, but there were still large swaths in the season where it felt as though Seoul were absolutely poor and that a shakeup needed to happen somewhere, preferably with the manager.  Once again, Seoul were struggling to score, but this time they were also having difficulties stopping other teams from scoring and the nadir of that year was the 5-1 loss in the Super Match.  At one point, Seoul were in 3rd place even though they had drawn a third of their games, making them the most fraudulent top three team ever.   There is no way that Seoul should have been that high because in the first 23 games, Seoul only scored 26 goals (1.13 per game) while conceding 25 (1.09).

In sum, they were woeful on both ends, but then Adriano left Daejeon, Seoul signed him, and the results began to improve.  In Seoul's last 15 games, they conceded 19 goals (1.27 per game), which is slightly more than before, but they also scored 26 goals (1.73 per game).  This was an increase of 53% and it made for a much more entertaining Seoul team.  With the improved results and an FA Cup, 2015 was a much better year than 2014.  My point in talking about Seoul is that there is very little a team can do if they do not have talented individuals, especially in attack.

I think the league has seen an increase in attacking talent this year.  As the teams in China look for players with more prestige, I think the ones overlooked are now plying their trade in Korea rather than China like they would have a year or three ago.  Kim Seung-dae and Yoon Bit-garam may have left for Yanbian Funde, but Dejan and Kim bo-kyung returned from China and Japan respectively.

Likewise, teams have been able to hang onto and even stockpile talent.  I expected Hwang Eui-jo to leave Seongnam FC this year, but he stayed and has been surpassed by his compatriot Tiago, who leads the K-League with nine goals.  Kovacec might be inconsistent with Ulsan, but he has moments of magic.  Gwangju might have scored less, but Jung Jo-gook has carried them to 6th place with his seven goals and if he did not play for them, I imagine they would be much worse this year and possibly even in last place.  Sangju's Park Gi-dong has exploded onto the scene and I am sure Jeonnam wish that he was leading their line this year.  The league's rich kid, Jeonbuk, went out and bought Lopes, Ko Mu-yeol, and Kim Shin-wook.

My point is that while the mandate from the K-League is nice in that it attempts to prioritize and reward attacking styles, it is not why teams are scoring more.  Instead, the reason teams are scoring more is that for the first time in a long time, there are better players in the K-League.  I also think keepers and defenders are making more mistakes, but that is just my opinion.  Most importantly though, will this increase in scoring last?

(From http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=2873130)
Not the first time this has been an issue

Since it is obvious why the K-League chose to reward goals scoring, I was curious if there was any link to attendance.  I was looking for the average attendance in 2006 and I came across this article.  Here is the first sentence:
The Korean professional soccer league opened the 2007 season last weekend with a vow by every coach to push for more aggressive soccer play to lift the slump in attendance that began last year. (koreajoongangdailyjoins.com  3/7/2007)
Obviously, people want to get some sort of value for their money and enjoy themselves when they go to a match.  Only the most hardcore will usually sit through a slate of low scoring, defensive contests that are not satisfying to watch for everyone else.  Looking at wikipedia.org, I have made a chart of fan attendance from 2006 to 20015.

(Data is from koreajoongangdailyjoins.com and wikipedia.org)

From 2007 through 2011, the K-League did respectably well with regards to attendance.  Unfortunately, possibly due to the betting scandal in 2011, there was a drop off and it seems that attendance has yet to recover. I am sure there are other factors involving the economy, but it has not helped that scoring dropped quite a bit after 2011 and has not really recovered since then.

K-League Classic League Table 2011-2015
Year
Played
Wins (Pct.)
Draws (Pct.)
Losses (Pct.)
Goals (Avg.)
2011
480
175 (36.45%)
130 (27.08%)
175 (36.45%)
655 (1.36)
2012
704
259 (37%)
186 (26%)
259 (37%)
869 (1.23)
2013
532
190 (35.71%)
152 (28.57%)
190 (35.71%)
677 (1.27)
2014
456
156 (34%)
144 (32%)
156 (34%)
506 (1.1)
2015
456
162 (35.5%)
132 (28.9%)
162 (35.5%)
546 (1.2)
Total
2628
942 (36%)
744 (28%)
942 (36%)
3253 (1.24)
As you can see, with the exception of a 2013, goals have decreased overall by 19% from 2011 to 2014.  There was a slight uptick in 2015, but not much to make any significant difference.  I was curious to see if the K-League was a more defensive league or that their goal scoring average was normal, so I compared the K-League to other leagues and found that only the Argentine Premiera Division and the Persian Gulf League had a lower scoring average league wide.  By no means am I trying to draw conclusions about whether the K-League is better, worse, or equal to the other leagues chosen.  I was just interested in seeing how many goals other leagues averaged and how the K-League compared.

Additionally, I was interested to see how, after calculating the goals averaged in the 18 leagues over the last five years, the K-League compared as well.  I came up with 1.33 per game and the K-League average is 1.24, so that is only a difference of 7%, which is not especially large in my opinion. However, I feel the K-League's emphasis towards defense has been especially pronounced in 2014 and 2015, so I also compared the K-League to 18 other leagues over a two year period.   The average number of goals scored in all 18 leagues was 1.32, while in the K-League it was only 1.15.   That is a decrease of almost 13%, which is a bigger number.  I think it is fair to say that the K-League in the last two years has become much more defensive.

Will the scoring continue?

For the time being, I think that scoring in the K-League will remain at this rate.  However, as the season nears it end and the stakes become greater, scoring will inevitably drop as "safety first" overtakes any of the romanticized notions of playing the game "the right way".  I think the first game of the year between Jeonbuk and FC Seoul demonstrated this as Jeonbuk set out to stifle Seoul and were able to steal all 3 points from a set piece.

Likewise, I think this has become evident when the teams, especially those at the top of the table, split into two groups at the end of the season.  Below are tables comparing the scoring for teams before and after the split.

K-League 2012 Scoring: Pre-split vs. Post-split
Pre-split
P
GF (avg.)
Post -split
P
GF (avg.)
Top 8
240
370 (1.54)
Top 8
112
142 (1.26)
Bottom 8
240
246 (1.03)
Bottom 8
112
138 (1.23)

In 2012, teams at the top of the table averaged slightly over a 1.5 goals per game while teams at the bottom of the table struggled to average a goal a game.  After the teams split, scoring for the top 8 teams fell 18%.  Granted, it did increase by 19% for the bottom 8 teams, but a 1.23 goals for average is still quite low and indicative of defensive contests.

K-League 2013 Scoring: Pre-split vs. Post-split
Pre-split
P
GF (avg.)
Post -split
P
GF (avg.)
Top 7
182
292 (1.6)
Top 7
84
95 (1.13)
Bottom 7
182
190 (1.04)
Bottom 7
84
100 (1.19)

In 2013, the teams at the top of the table improved their scoring average prior to the split while teams at the bottom of the table continued to struggle to score, which is why they were at the bottom of the table.  After the teams split, scoring again fell for the top 8 teams by 29%.  Once again, scoring went up for the bottom 8 teams by 14%, but at 1.19 goals per game I could not see many of these games going down in the annals of history as classics.

K-League 2014 Scoring: Pre-split vs. Post-split
Pre-split
P
GF (avg.)
Post -split
P
GF (avg.)
Top 6
198
256 (1.29)
Top 6
30
31 (1.03)
Bottom 6
198
186 (0.94)
Bottom 6
30
33 (1.1)

In 2014, the worst year to the watch the league in my opinion, teams at the top of the table really struggled to score that year as there was a drop-off of 19% from 2013 before the split.  Teams in the bottom, who always struggled to score, were exceptionally woeful in 2014 since they could not even average a goal a game.  After the split, scoring for teams in the top 6 fell by 20%, which is alarming in that those teams were struggling to score goals before the split.  For teams in the bottom six, scoring did improve by 17% after the split and they were finally able to average a goal a game.

K-League 2015 Scoring: Pre-split vs. Post-split
Pre-split
P
GF (avg.)
Post -split
P
GF (avg.)
Top 6
198
282 (1.42)
Top 6
30
32 (1.07)
Bottom 6
198
198 (1.0)
Bottom 6
30
34 (1.13)

In 2015, the teams at the top of the table had a slight rebound in scoring, but it was still less than teh averages in 2012 and 2013.  Once again, top 6 teams struggled to score goals before the split and did even worse after as scoring decreased by 25%.  Teams at the bottom of the table averaged a goal prior to the split and improved slightly after the split.  However, I do not think the league would want to highlight that as reason why the split system should be continued.

Scoring for teams at the top of the table has dropped every year from as little as 18% in 2012 up to 29% in 2013 and I think it is for two reasons.  First, as mentioned above, the stakes are much higher so teams will take less risks and often times, depending on league position, will be quite happy to walk away with a point.  Second, every team in the K-League plays each other three times prior to the split, so by the fourth meeting, the teams know the strengths of their opponent and probably have found a way to neutralize it.  Therefore, pair the increased stakes with the knowledge that comes from experience, it is natural that many of these games will finish in draws of 0-0 or 1-1.  

These draws are not necessarily bad, but I am not sure how the average fan might feel about that on a blisteringly cold November day at the end of the season, especially if Jeonbuk have already wrapped up the title by the 34th round.  If the reason for the K-League to change the rule from counting goal differential to goals for as a means to break ties was to increase attendance, then I think it will not be successful because of the split.  Here are the attendance figures for the post-splits in 2014 and 2015.  

2014 K-League Attendance Post-Split
Week
Top 6 Attendance (avg.)
Bottom 6 Attendance (avg.)
Combined Attendance (avg.)
1
5,898
1,250
3,574
2
14,792
2,849
8,820
3
11,970
3,046
7,508
4
8,951
2,158
5,554
5
6,328
1,853
4,090
Total
9,588
2,231
5,909

I would say that less than 10,000 for a top six team is not great, but attendance for the bottom six is abysmal.  It was slightly better in 2015.  For the top six teams, an average attendance of over 12,000 is pretty good I guess.  However, the bottom six teams are still quite low, which reflects the lack of quality in the team and subsequently, interest by fans.  

2015 K-League Attendance Post-Split
Week
Top 6 Attendance (avg.)
Bottom 6 Attendance (avg.)
Combined Attendance (avg.)
1
12,743
1,389
6,971
2
12,111
1,125
6,618
3
11,528
3,389
7,459
4
15,895
3,514
9,704
5
9,781
2,690
6,235
Total
12,412
2,421
7,397

As long as either Jeonbuk, FC Seoul, or Suwon Bluewings are in the top six and are doing well, then I think top six attendance rates will be alright.  Unfortunately, the bottom six attendance figures will most likely always be low, which I think is a big reason to scrap the split and go back to maybe having a play off of some sort or just end the season after 33 games.  However, that is a topic for another day.

Currently, top six teams are averaging 1.63 goals a game and the bottom six teams are averaging 1.15 goals.  That is the highest for top six teams and bottom six teams since 2011.  Hopefully, it will last throughout the season, but as I have mentioned prior, once the teams split I think it will drop.

1 comment

  1. Really great stuff here. It's definitely felt a lot more entertaining, but I didn't know several teams had scored TEN more goals than they had at this point last year. Hopefully the trend continues and attendance will come with it.

    ReplyDelete

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