rss twitter facebook mobile

Winning The League On Goal Difference Takes Away From Success?

If Manchester United match Chelsea’s result this weekend, whether that is win, lose or draw, we will win the league by goal difference alone. We currently have a difference superior by 17 goals, thanks to our great scoring and defensive records. Whilst Ronaldo has stolen most of the headlines this season, there has still been some room for praise of our defence, who have conceded fewer goals for our club this season than in any other title winning campaign. It currently stands at just 22 goals against, which is 5 goals better than last season, which was the current record for fewest goals conceded, with 27 goals. Incredibly, United have won the Premiership despite conceding 45 goals before now!

Ricardo Carvalho believes it’s an injustice that a team should win the league on goal difference, instead suggesting there be a ‘play off’ format to decide who should be crowned Champions. Somebody really ought to explain to Carvalho the point of having a league and counting goal difference. Leagues aren’t about one off matches, they’re about how you do over the course of the season. Would Carvalho too suggest that Barnsley take Chelsea’s place in the top division after beating them in a one off game this season? Would Carvalho have been offering up this little suggestion if his side were about to win the league on goal difference?

Sheffield United were relegated on goal difference last season, as were Bolton in 1998, City in 1996, and Palace in 1993, to name a few. Should they too have been offered a chance to play the team ahead of them in the table for a chance to stay in the Premiership? Of course not. It would defeat the whole purpose of the league if teams that were either weaker defensively or offensively, or both, in the case of Chelsea in relation to United this season, were still allowed to claim the prize.

However, whether winning the title on goal difference instead of points takes away from the occasion is a valid question, and one which Sir Alex Ferguson addressed in a press conference today.

When asked whether this league title would mean less than the previous nine, Fergie responded, “are you serious? To have a good goal difference gives you an edge on everyone. It is a point I have made for quite a few seasons. You win the league because you are the best team. It doesn’t matter how.”

Do you agree with Ferguson?


About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

View all posts by Scott »



  1. D. says:

    I think Carvalho’s clutching at straws here. Besides, if goal difference wasn’t that important we’d have played Pizarro up front every week!

  2. james f says:

    If we win the title, it’ll be the sweetest of them all. Goals are scored for a reason.

  3. Red Ranter says:

    If not for goal difference our head to head between us and Chelsea is also in our favour: 3-2 (home + away) So Carvalho is clutching at straws.

  4. jimmy Bob says:

    chelsea know the rules carvallaho should shut his mouth

  5. lewis says:

    i’d actually prefer to win on goal difference. it would be a reward for playing attractive attacking football

  6. Sagar says:

    lol it seems carvalho isn’t the only one who feels like that.
    Avram Grant also seems to feel the same way.

    The whole reason its like that is because it is a league where the efforts of a team over the course of the season is taken into account. It would be unfair for a team to loose out in a winner takes all knockout match.

    the rules are like that for a reason…if you don’t like it then you can go to another league where they might have the system you prefer.

  7. greek says:

    if we lose the title now that will take away success ..if we win, we win what’s the point.. once again better luck next year ..”takes away success” hahaha they should have started pulling up their socks a couples months back

  8. Tom F says:

    I think winning the title on goal difference will teach Chelsea a valuable lesson in why teams like United have the attacking philosophy they do.

    Value for money, exciting, attractive and rewarding football is why it is dubbed the beautiful game but Chelsea would not know anything about that would they and neither would their fans who seem to ignore that fact.

    Chelsea would love to take away goal difference from the league table because it would make their 1 goal margin wins a bit more worthwhile come Sunday.

  9. NC says:

    Sorry Scott, I love the blog, and I want to see Manchester Utd win the league, even though I’m not a fan of any English football teams, but the point you make in this article is weak and unsubstantial.

    “Leagues aren’t about one off matches, they’re about how you do over the course of the season.”

    - Apart, of course, from the highly exciting spectacle of the play-offs which take place for the last promotion/relegation place in not only the English, but also Scottish, leagues.

    I can understand Carvalho and Grant’s opinion entirely. Italy have got the idea licked – a two-legged playoff for teams who finish on the same points. Not only is this fairer, but it makes it more exciting for the football fan. Winning a league on who plays the more “exciting” football is a ridiculous thing to advocate – it should be about who is the best team. And the only way to determine who the best team is, when teams have the same amount of points, is to pit them against each other.

  10. Scott the Red says:

    NC – The Italian league scrapped the playoff idea 3 years ago. How the lower leagues and Scottish league want to run things is up to them. None of the top leagues in Europe go by the play-off idea, and there’s obviously a reason for that.

    If goal difference is deemed worthless, and instead, a playoff scenario is preferred, then all sides will play conservative football. Why would top teams go out to score as many goals as possible if it counts for nothing? Score a goal or two then shut up shop.

    Why is them playing against each other the only way to see who is the better side? Is the team that has shown over 38 matches that they have a stronger attack and stronger defence not the better side? Is every team that wins a tie over two legs the best one? If Rooney, Ronaldo, Rio, Hargreaves and Scholes all got injured in the last week of the season and couldn’t play against Chelsea, is that a fair representation of our team over a period of 9-10 months? Explain to me, what is the point of a league, where points are accumulated, goals are scored and conceded, if at the end of it all, you scrap all of it and judge the better team on two matches?

    United and Chelsea have played each other twice this season. 3-2 we win on aggregate. We have shown over the course of 38 games we have a better defence than them and a better attack than them. If we win the league tomorrow, it is because we have proven over the course of a season that we are the best side. You don’t need play offs to prove that.

  11. NC says:

    I think it all depends on how you view goals scored and goals conceded. For example, I feel that goals scored and conceded are incidental to gaining points. Teams don’t go out to score as many goals are possible, they go out to win. And how do you win? By scoring as many goals as possible and conceding as little as possible. I think it would be extremely naive to say that teams would play conservatively if a playoff system was introduced – because you would still have to win yourself into a position that put you top of the league. You make it sound like, if there were playoffs for teams who finished on the same points, that every team would give up. Well not so, because they would still have to score and win to get themselves into the position at the top of the league.

    What you say about rooney, ronaldo etc getting injured is a fair point – but it stands true for any other team. It could just as easy be lampard, terry, drogba who would miss it, but its how a team adapts to losing players (like they have to during the season too).

    What it really comes down to is what is the best way to differentiate two teams who have won the same amount of points as each other. I believe that all other external factors should be taken out, leaving it to a playoff between just those two teams to show who is best. I just don’t believe that how “attractive” (which is a very subjective thing anyway) a team plays should be used as a marker for it to win one of the biggest prizes in the world.

    Anyway, I reiterate that I have nothing against Utd, this has been my opinion for years. Good luck tomorrow, I wish yous all the best.

  12. Scott the Red says:

    Look at the style of football Chelsea play. Boring, but effective. If goal difference counted for nothing, then that’s how all teams would play. Score a goal or two to get the points in the bag, then make sure you avoid conceding – just like we did against Barca, for example. If the amount of goals you score counts for nothing, then whose going to be mug enough to risk conceding and possibly dropping points by going on the all out attack when they’re 2-0 up?

    When you lose players to injury, which happens to every team, you have the rest of the season to make up for it. That doesn’t work if there’s just 2 games that the whole season comes down to.

    On to your point about attractive football. Good goal difference isn’t just associated with attractive football. Both United’s attack AND defence have shown to be better than Chelsea’s this season. If United were winning 6-5 every week then I’d see your point, but I don’t understand an argument which says that a team who has shown they can score more goals than their rivals and concede fewer goals is not the better team.

    Also, I pay £665 a year for my season ticket + £100s for the cup games. I don’t pay all that money to watch controlled defensive minded football, focussed totally on gaining points. I do it because I want to be entertained. I’ve seen United score 4 goals 8 times this season and watched truly thrilling attacking football. Of the 29 matches I’ve watched at Old Trafford this season, I can only think of the City (lost 2-1) and Birmingham (won 1-0) where we didn’t play entertaining football and I was disappointed in our performance.

    If goal difference was deemed worthless, then I’d be watching disappointing performances a lot more often, and that’s not something I’d want to happen at any cost. That might be alright for Chelsea fans. They might be content with JUST securing the points. I want to watch my team secure the points AND look bloody beautiful in doing so :)

  13. Tom F says:

    This argument about whether teams finshing level on points should have a play-off is just plain silly.

    I can’t believe Grant and Carvalho are even talking about this.

    Does this mean the following teams in the League today have to have a ‘Final’ against eachother for being on the same points respectively:

    manchester united v chelsea (84 points)

    sunderland v middlesborough (39 points)

    Fulham v reading (33 points)

    That’d be very fair and a complete and utter disgrace.

  14. NC says:

    The argument is academic now anyway. Brilliant result Utd, and well done all utd fans. Keep up the good work on the blog Scott, I’ve really enjoyed reading it since I started about a year ago. I hope you’ll keep us updated with the latest utd gossip over the summer.



You must be logged in to post a comment.