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K League Coach: A Study of K League vs Premier League Part 1

The K League Coach returns with a study of goals and the actions leading up to goals between the English Premier League and the K League 1. The analysis of the goals will be broken down into three areas, the finish, the assist and the transitional moment. This will highlight similarities and differences in style of play between the leagues. Part one of the K League Coach's "What are we Watching?" series looks at how goals are scored.


In a comparison of K League and the English Premier League, particular focus will be applied to the actions involved in 'open play',goals and the actions leading up to them. Definitions of terminology will be put forward in each section as it becomes relevant.

The goals analysed will come from a similar time frame, the initial seven rounds of the K League 1 season between March 1st 2019 and April 14th 2019, and and six rounds of the English Premier League (EPL) season from February 22nd to March 31st. The additional round of games for the K League was due to there only being six games per week, compared to 10 in most weeks in the EPL. It brought the number of games per league closer while still being in a similar time frame During this period there were 53 EPL games over six rounds of play, resulting in 150 goals, and 42 K League 1 games over seven rounds resulting in 95 goals.

Part 1 - Goal Scoring Action

During the period where there were 150 EPL goals scored and 96 K League goals, the EPL saw 2.83 goals per game compared with 2.26 goals per game in the K League. These goals can be broken into 'open play' goals and 'set piece' goals. 'Open play' will be defined as moments when teams are playing in their flow and within their own formation. 'Set piece' will be defined as restart moments such as corners, throw-ins, penalties, direct free kicks, or set pieces delivered into the final third. These set piece moments distort the numbers of players in certain areas and require distinctly different behaviour.

Exactly 99 of the 150 EPL goals came from open play, 66% of all goals, 1.86 open play goals per game whilst 71 of the 95 K League goals came from open play, 74.74% of all goals, 1.69 open play goals per game.The EPL has a higher number of goals per game, but has a higher reliance on set pieces for goals. The details of each of the open play goals will broken down into three areas of analysis and comparison.

1.1 Location Comparison 

For goal location analysis the pitch was broken in the 12 areas detailed below. These areas are commonly used in expected goals (xG) analysis. The goal was assigned a location depending upon the place of the final touch by the attacking player.

English Premier League
As shown above, zone seven, the area centrally between the six-yard box and the edge of the penalty area, is the major area that goals are scored. When combined with the area directly in front of the goal within the six-yard box, these two zones contribute over half of the open play goals scored in the EPL during this period.

K League 1
It was a very similar story with K League goals, with zones one and seven once again providing over half of the goals. Play in both leagues is resulting in similar locations for their goals.

1.2 Body Part Usage

When comparing how the goal was finished, this time there was a difference between the K League and the EPL. The EPL had a much higher reliance on right-footed finishes and there was an increase of 6% for goals scored via header, and over a 7% increase in left-footed finishes.

1.3 Touches Taken by Goal Scorer

There is also a difference in the number of touches taken by the goal scorer across the leagues. The increase in first-time finishes for goals from open play can perhaps be connected to the higher percentage of headed goals in the K League. This suggests that, although goals are coming from the same locations in open play, the delivery into these areas may differ. The increase in the EPL's number of goals coming from four or more touches may be connected to this, with play perhaps being focused on technical players driving into this areas using close control as opposed to crosses to head.


  • A higher percentage of goals in the EPL come from set pieces than in the K League.
  • Goals from open play tend to come from the same areas.
  • Despite the EPL having more set piece goals, headed goals are slightly more common in open play in the K League.

K League Coach Considerations

  • If K League teams are able to score headers from open play, why are they seeing a lower percentage of goals coming from set pieces? Is there an issue with set piece delivery or movement? 
  • The higher percentage of first time finishes in the K League is not always via headed goals.
  •  Are goalkeepers setting themselves correctly and anticipating early shots, especially from left-footed players?
  • To increase the goals per game average, teams may need to look at if they are getting runners into the right areas for the best chance to finish off attacking moves.
  • Gyeongnam have 10 goals from open play in this period, the most of any team. Jeonbuk and Daegu both have nine while Seoul have seven. 
  • All these clubs find themselves in the top half, compared to Incheon with two goals from open play. 
  • A team's ability to create goals from open play is linked to where they find themselves in the table.

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