La Liga Goal Distribution Reveals Over Reliance by Some Teams on a Particular Style

Last week SportsMatrix looked at goal distribution by playing style in the English Premier League; this week Spain’s La Liga comes under the spotlight.

Whilst the two leagues have quite different playing styles, it is somewhat surprising that the overall goal distribution is remarkably similar between the two leagues.

Of 983 goals scored in 360 games in Liga, 39% were as a result of passing moves (EPL 40%), 18% were scored following a set piece (EPL 19%), 13% came from counter attacks (EPL 10%), 10% as a result of individual plays (EPL11%), 7% from penalty kicks (EPL 7%), 4% from long balls (EPL 4%) and 9% from other styles (EPL 9%).

As a reminder, the playing style definitions are as follows:

Passing move – a team move involving short passes to bypass the opposition defence.

Long ball – a team move which starts from a long high ball used to bypass the opposition backline.

Individual – a move where a player dribbles the ball beating opposition defenders.

Counter– A rapid move where a team gains possession with the opposition out of position.

Set Piece – a goal originating from either a corner kick, free kick or a throw-in, but excluding penalty kicks.

Other – A goal which follows a short attacking event, such as a second ball.

When examining Spain’s top three teams half of the goals scored by Barcelona (52) and Real Madrid (53) followed a passing move, whilst Atletico Madrid’s 24 goals from this style accounted for 40% of their goals, close to the average for La Liga. Three other La Liga teams which relied heavily on passing were Villarreal (48%), Celta de Vigo (46%) and Sevilla (45%). At the other end of the passing table and by a massive margin are Granada with only six goals scored all season from passing moves, this accounting for a mere 14% of their goals, compared to the league average of 39%.

The highest percentage of goals scored following long balls came from Real Sociedad (10%); but whilst Sociedad and Barcelona both scored four times from long balls, Atletico Madrid were top scorers with five goals coming from long ball passes. Whilst after 36 league games Rayo Vallecano, Real Betis, Las Palmas and Valencia have all failed to score a goal from a long ball.


La Liga saw a higher percentage of goals from counter attacks than the English Premier League, with Real Madrid scoring most counter attack goals (15); but the team with the highest percentage of their goals from counter attacks was Deportivo La Coruna (23%), with Granada second with nine goals, which accounted for 21% of their goals. Of La Liga’s four Andalusian teams Granada are the exception, with Real Betis, Sevilla and Malaga scoring only 6% of their goals from counter attacks, a lower percentage than all other teams in La Liga other than Real Sociedad (5%).

Despite the remarkable individual skills of Barcelona, it is Deportivo La Coruna who managed the highest percentage of goals from dribbles, with their nine goals accounting for 21% of all of their goals. Whilst Real Madrid (8), Barcelona (8) and Atletico Madrid (7) all scored a similar number of goals from dribbles, this number represented a considerably lower percentage of their goals. The four teams with the highest percentage of individual goals (Deportivo, Granada, Espanyol and Sporting Gijon) all occupy positions in the bottom seven in the league. At the other end of the table, with the lowest percentage of individual goals were Villarreal and Las Palmas (5%).

Levante, who are all but relegated, were the team to rely more than any other for goals from set pieces. Their 11 set piece goals accounted for almost a third their season’s goals; however the team to score most set piece goals by a considerable margin were Real Madrid (18). Malaga and Real Betis, who along with Levante, scored fewest goals in La Liga, were also heavily reliant on set pieces with both scoring 29% of all of their goals from this style. Celta de Vigo were least reliant on set plays with only 6% of their goals (3) coming from this style of play.

Whilst only 11% of their goals came from set plays, placing Barcelona second bottom in the league, the Catalan club scored more than twice as many penalty kick goals (13) as any other club in La Liga; with this accounting for only 13% of all their season’s goals; whilst Granada’s six goals from the spot accounted for 14% of their goals. Sevilla and Real Madrid both scored six times from penalty kicks, whilst Real’s neighbours Atletico scored only once from the spot, this accounting for only 2% of their goals, the fewest in the league.

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