Serie A – the league of entertainment: Low-scoring matches and 0-0s are a thing of the past… but why?

You often hear Serie A described as a defensive or low-scoring league, but that hasn't been the case for quite a while. In fact, we're seeing fewer 0-0s than ever in the Italian top flight, and regularly more goals than in any other European league.

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The late Gianni Brera would radically describe a 0-0 draw as the perfect game, claiming that nobody had made a mistake throughout the 90 minutes. Although scoreless draws were in vogue during his lifetime, Serie A matches are now filled with more goals.

Up to and including Matchday 12 of the 2022/23 season, there had only been one scoreless draw in 70 matches in Italy’s top flight.

Is Serie A a defensive league?

Numeri Calcio report that the change in trend began as far back the 1980s, when 0-0 draws were still seen as the norm and Italian football lived up to its stereotype as being dour and defensive.

The ball in the net at Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi. (@Inter_en)

In the 1980/81 Serie A campaign, there were 16 teams and 30 rounds were played. Forty-four matches ended in scoreless draws, which was more than 18% of the fixtures played. Draws in general were not abnormal, and Brescia achieved 17 draws in the league campaign, but were relegated despite finishing on 25 points with four other teams because of an inferior head-to-head record.

Two seasons later, there were 47 matches that ended 0-0, practically one out of every five games. Udinese amassed a staggering 20 draws in 30 games, and missed out on a UEFA Cup spot by three points.

Serie A’s move away from being a low-scoring league

A significant change was made in the 1988/89 season, when 18 clubs competed in Serie A and four clubs would be relegated instead of three. Thirty-four rounds were played, with 58 matches ending scoreless, counting for 18.5% of fixtures.

Nicolo Barella scoring at San Siro for Inter against Salernitana. [@Inter_en]

Since 1991/92, there has not been a season in which 40 scoreless draws or more have been seen. Changes to the back-pass and offside rules allowed Serie A fixtures to become more open. In 1992/93, there were 27 scoreless draws in Serie A, less than 10% of games played.

Another important change made came for the 1994/95 season, when a team started to earn three points for a victory. Juventus won the Serie A title under Marcello Lippi for the first time and they registered just four draws.

Serie A expanded one more time in 2004/05, taking the total of clubs in the division to 20, which is still in place today, and went back to three teams being relegated. With subscription television on the rise, it meant that more teams were being seen around the world, not just the giants of Italian football like AC Milan, Juventus, Inter, AS Roma and others.

By 2008/09, the amount of 0-0 draws went down further. In a season consisting of 38 rounds, only 17 matches ended in scoreless draws, accounting for just 4.47% of games played.

Serie A’s introduction of VAR

Referee Marco Di Bello consults VAR. (Photo: Getty)

The introduction of VAR for the 2017/18 Serie A season has also made scoreless draws a rarer occurrence due to offside decisions and debatable penalty calls being assessed through video analysis.

After a brief increase to 34 goalless draws in 2018/19, the number of games without goals have dwindled again. Twenty-one matches ended 0-0 in 2019/20, just 19 ended scoreless in 2020/21, and the last season had 22.

After 15 rounds, only ten matches have ended in 0-0 draws in 2022/23, with four of them coming on Matchday 2.

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