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Champions League group stage goal times analysis

UEFA's analysis unit looks at the trends, including a big rise in comeback wins, in this season's UEFA Champions League group stage.

Jude Bellingham spearheaded Real Madrid's group-stage comeback at Napoli
Jude Bellingham spearheaded Real Madrid's group-stage comeback at Napoli AFP via Getty Images

In a group stage featuring a flurry of exciting comebacks, the first goal in matches played so far in this Champions League campaign has not had its usual weight.

Where last season the team who scored first managed to at least gain a draw on 90% of occasions, so far in 2023/24 that figure has fallen to 80%.

This is one of the more intriguing points to take from a study by UEFA's analysis unit of when the goals were scored in the newly completed group stage, which contained 18 comeback wins – seven more than in the 2022/23 group stage.

Indeed where over the entirety of last season the team who struck first won 75% of the time, this time the figure dropped to 64% – as highlighted by the graphic below.

Overall, there were 296 goals scored in the group stage – with the opening goal arriving just before the half-hour on average.

The chart below offers a detailed breakdown of when exactly the goals were scored. As is the case each year, there were more goals in the second half – and roughly one-fifth (19.6%) of all the group stage goals came between the 81st minute and final whistle.

With 21 goals each, the three busiest spells for goals were the periods from 51–55, 81–85 and 90+ minutes.

As mentioned at the top of the article, this was a group stage with a notable number of fightbacks and the late goals were an evident factor in this respect.

Overall, 22 of the 96 matches had a winning goal in the last 15 minutes. Real Madrid owed their 100% record in Group C to late strikes in four matches, starting with Jude Bellingham's 94th-minute winner against Union Berlin on Matchday 1.

Performance Insights: Real Madrid comebacks

Manchester United suffered the opposite fate in Group A, with three defeats inflicted by goals after the 80th minute. Their neighbours Manchester City, meanwhile, beat Leipzig twice through goals after the 80-minute mark, and Lazio did the same to Celtic.

Performance Insights: Man City comebacks

One national-team coach on the UEFA Technical Observer Panel wondered whether the increased number of substitutes available to coaches was proving an influence with respect to the late goals and turnarounds – and the numbers support this suggestion given that in 15 of the 21 matches with a decisive late goal, it was a substitute who got it.

Performance Insights: Lazio's decisive goals

Red cards, meanwhile, were a factor in two of the most striking comebacks: Man United and Sevilla each led by two goals before a sending-off knocked them off course and they lost to Copenhagen and PSV Eindhoven respectively on Matchday 5.

If there was slight increase in match length – from 96 minutes to 98 on average – it is debatable whether this was a factor in the late shows given only one goal was scored after the 96th minute. Yet that is something to consider anew when the knockout stage unfolds in February, when it will also be interesting to see whether we witness more comebacks than in the 2022/23 knockout rounds which contained just one fightback.

• This analysis concludes a series of articles produced by UEFA's analysis unit over the course of the 2023/24 Champions League group stage – another step forward in the provision of insights for the community of analysts and coaches across Europe.

Atle Rosseland, the Supervisor for Performance Analysis in UEFA's Football department, said: "Krzysztof Waloszczyk has led all UEFA's football projects this year with the support of Jozef Záhorský, Technical Education manager, and I genuinely believe we are on the right track in regards of collecting bespoke insights from all senior club and national team competitions.

"The ultimate aim is to standardise collection of video and data across all our tournaments and deliver this intel to all clubs in national associations within the UEFA family."

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