What Is Goal Difference? Explained in detail

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What Is Goal Difference? GD is a universally used abbreviation in football that stands for goal difference. Goal difference is worked out by subtracting the number of goals a team has conceded during the season from the number of goals they have scored that season.

If a team scores 50 goals and concedes 48 over the course of the season, they will finish with a goal difference of +2, which is a positive goal difference. To learn more, let’s keep reading about the meaning of gd in football and why we use it.

What Is Goal Difference in Football?

What Is Goal Difference in Football?

Goal difference is counted as the number of goals scored by a team in all league matches across the season, minus the number of goals conceded.

The usage of goal difference as a tie-breaker was first introduced at the 1970 World Cup and then used by the English Football League in 1975. Since then, the majority of European football leagues as well as tournaments around the world used goal difference to determine rank – though other competitions may favor the “head-to-head” record or other variations as a priority tie-breaker.

  • Let’s look at the goal difference Manchester City achieved when winning the 2020/21 Premier League to highlight how goal difference works.

Manchester City scored a total of 83 goals and conceded just 32 goals in their 38 Premier League matches during the 20/21 season. 83 – 32 = a goal difference of 51. They only won the title by 12 points, but their superiority was highlighted further by their goal difference being 22 goals better than their nearest rivals Manchester United.

Of course, not all goal differences start with a plus. Indeed, ten of the 20 Premier League clubs in the 2020/21 season returned a negative goal difference. Bottom club Sheffield United scored just 20 goals and conceded 63, meaning they finished the season with a -43 goals difference. West Brom and Fulham, who were also relegated, had the next two worse goal differences of -41 and -26.

How Does Goal Difference Affect Football Betting?

Goal difference is used in many leagues to separate teams that have finished equal points. Leeds and Everton finished tied on 59 points in the 20/21 Premier League, but Leeds was placed ahead of Everton because of their superior goal difference.

Newcastle and Wolves also tied on points and, amazingly, also had identical goal differences of -16. In this scenario, the team that scored the most goals is placed ahead of the other team, so Newcastle (46) finished above Wolves (36).

This method of using goal difference and goals scored to determine which team finishes in front of another is used no matter where teams finish in the league, whether they’re at the top or at the bottom, therefore they could have a massive effect on betting results.

Markets such as league winner, top-4, top-6, top-10, and relegation can all be decided by goal difference or goals scored

What Happens If Goal Difference Is the Same?

In the incredibly unlikely event that two teams end level on points and on overall goal difference, then league placement will usually be decided by the number of goals scored. This means if both sides have a goal difference of +50, but Real Madrid have scored 90 goals and Barcelona have scored 92 goals, then Barcelona will finish above Real.

If the goals scored were also the same, then a league like the Premier League will be decided by a playoff. This will be held at a neutral venue if it is needed to decide the champion, participation in European competition, or relegation.

Top League Goal Difference

How does the Premier League rank teams level on points?

In the English top flight, if any clubs finish the season with the same number of points, their position is first determined by:

  1. Goal difference
  2. The higher number of goals scored
  3. Playoff at a neutral venue if relevant for deciding champion, relegation, or participating in a European league, otherwise by draw.

What is the Best Goal Difference in Premier League History?

what does gd mean in football?

The best goal difference in the history of the Premier League was achieved by Man City in the 2017/18 season when they achieved an impressive +79 goal difference and a record 100 points.

The 2021/22 season was equally impressive though, in which they finished with an incredible GD of +73, made up of 99 goals for, with only 26 against.

Despite being their first season without record goalscorer Aguero, the Cityzens couldn’t stop scoring, finishing the season with a monumental 150 goals in all competitions, the most of any team in Europe.

Riyad Mahrez finished as the top scorer with 24 goals in all competitions as City once again secured the Premier League title (getting a bit samey now).

City even managed to get the highest goal difference in the 2019/20 season, when Liverpool won the league with a GD of +52 to City’s +67.

What is the worst GD in Premier League history?

premier league goal difference

Well, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, with arguably the worst-ever Premier League side, you have the 2007/08 Derby County team, who finished the season with a ridiculously poor goal difference of -69.

Managed by Billy Davies and then Paul Jewell, after Davies was sacked in November, the Rams only managed to win a single league game and finished the season with just 11 points. That remains the record for the lowest-ever points tally in the Premier League.

Not only this, but Derby also set the record for both the most goals conceded, with 89, and the fewest goals scored, as they only found the net 20 times in the whole season.

It seems highly unlikely that another Premier League side will ever have such a disastrous goal difference in the future (or just be that bad), although we wouldn’t completely write it off in this strange old game.

How does the Champions League rank teams level on points?

In the Champions League group stages, four teams will be in one group and then rank according to points. The teams to finish in the top two of their group will progress to the knockout stages, while the latter two will either be eliminated or dropped into the Europa League.

  1. Head-to-head points between tied teams
  2. Head-to-head goal difference between tied teams
  3. Goals scored in head-to-head matches among tied teams
  4. Away goals scored in head-to-head matches among tied teams
  5. If more than two teams are tied, and after applying all head-to-head criteria above, a subset of teams are still tied, all head-to-head criteria above are reapplied exclusively to this subset of teams
  6. Goal difference in all group matches
  7. Goals scored in all group matches
  8. Away goals scored in all group matches
  9. Wins in all group matches
  10. Away wins in all group matches
  11. Disciplinary points (red card = 3 points, yellow card = 1 point, expulsion for two yellow cards in one match = 3 points)
  12. UEFA club coefficient

How does La Liga rank teams level on points?

La Liga decides their tie-breakers between two level clubs first through goal difference, like in the Premier League.

But, if points are equal between two or more clubs, then the tie is broken through:

  1. Head-to-head points between tied teams
  2. Head-to-head goal difference between tied teams
  3. Goal difference

If the tie is still not broken, A Fair Play scales will determine the winner:

  1. Receiving a yellow card: -1 point
  2. Doubled yellow card/ejection -2 points
  3. Direct red card -3 points
  4. Suspension of coach or other club personnel -5 points
  5. Misconduct of supporters -5-7 points
  6. Stadium closure -10 points

Then, if the clubs are still level, a tie-break match in a neutral stadium will be the factor in the ranking.

How does the Bundesliga rank teams level on points?

In the Bundesliga, they also use goal difference as the priority tie-breaker. Their rules for determining the end-of-season ranking are as follows:

  1. Goal difference
  2. Goals scored for the entire season
  3. Head-to-head results (total points accumulated)
  4. Head-to-head goals scored
  5. Head-to-head away goals scored
  6. Total away goals scored for the entire season
  7. Playoff at a neutral venue if relevant for deciding champion, relegation, or participating in a European league, otherwise by draw.

How does Ligue 1 rank teams level on points?

In Ligue 1, here are the following tie-breakers:

  1. Goal difference
  2. The higher number of goals scored
  3. Playoff at a neutral venue if relevant for deciding champion, relegation, or participating in a European league, otherwise by draw.

How does Serie A rank teams level on points?

The deciding tie-breakers in Serie A are as follows:

  1. Head-to-head points
  2. Head-to-head goal difference
  3. Goal difference
  4. The higher number of goals scored
  5. Playoff at a neutral venue if relevant for deciding champion, relegation, or participating in a European league, otherwise by draw.

Until the 2004-05 season, a playoff fixture at the end of the season would be used to determine the champions, European spots, or relegation, if the two teams were on the same points.

The last championship playoff occurred in the 1963-64 season. It was when Bologna and Inter both finished on 54 points and Bologna won the playoff 2-0.


Football is an unforgiving sport when it comes to the rules and terminology that come with the game. Whether you are writing about football or simply trying to get your point across in the pub, you will need to ensure you know the finer details of the game. If not you may come off as a footballing idiot.

This means the offside rule, away goals and goal difference have all become more important in a world where everyone seems to be pretending to know everything.

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