If you’re new to the sport and want to learn the basics of soccer, you need to at least learn how to interpret a soccer table.
And no—it’s not an item in soccer. It’s an information table that contains the standings of each club. Below is an example of a soccer standing.
Here’s a screenshot of the 2020–21 season of the Premier League. We’ll need this for the explanation.
Source: Premier League
It is a summary of how teams are doing relative to each other. One look and you can easily see which teams are doing—which teams are doing good or bad.
But to get a better understanding of the sport, it’s not enough that you look at the total wins of the teams. You need to know what other metrics mean as well—and it’s actually pretty easy.
How Does a Soccer Table Work?
In a typical soccer table, you will have around 8 columns.
MP – Games Played/Match Played
W – Win
D – Draw
L – Loss
GF – Goals For
GA – Goals Against
GD – Goal Difference
Pts – Total points
The top 4 columns are easy to understand and would require no further explanation. But to refresh your memory in case you’re really new to the game. Games played is the number of games played up to that point. A win is a win. A draw is a draw (where the two teams score the same number of goals). A loss is a loss.
The way it works is each win and draw will have a corresponding amount of points. The points will be tallied by the end of the season. The team that finishes with the most points wins.
A win is worth 3 points, whereas a draw equals 1 point. A loss does not award you any points.
How Do You Know Who’s the Champion?
Ultimately, the team that ends up with the most points by the end of the season will be declared the champion. There are no playoffs or knockout stages.
The team that collects the most points wins. It’s as simple as that.
And as you would expect from a scoring system like this, there will sometimes be a tie. A tie is settled in several ways.
What Happens When There’s a Tie?
Now, this is where the GF, GA, and GD come in. Normally, you can ignore these stats as they don’t really mean much outside of a tie (or unless you’re playing fantasy football).
But first, we need to learn the meaning of these 3 terms.
What Do GF, GA, and GD Stand For?
GF means “Goals For,” which is the total number of goals the team has scored on all their played matches.
GA means “Goals Against,” which is the total number of goals scored against them on all their played matches.
GD is “Goal Difference,” which is practically just subtracting the GA from GF. A positive GD means you scored more goals than conceded. A negative GD means you got scored on more than you scored.
How Do Tiebreakers Work?
Tiebreakers in a season are actually really common and can result in exciting games since teams would be playing harder to break the tie.
Let’s take the teams 9 and 10 on the table here. They have the same total of 59 points.
When this happens, the team with the higher GD will take the higher spot.
As you can see, Leeds United has 8 GD, compared to Everton’s -1 GD. As a result, Leeds United is placed one spot higher.
This is where goals against teams are crucial. You’ll never know how close the standings are. A single goal can be the difference between relegation and berth.
This gets us to the next part.
What If Several Teams Have the Same Points and GD Total?
Let’s use the same season from the Premier League.
In the table below, you can see that Newcastle and Wolves have the same number of GD at -16. They also have the same points total.
This actually happens a lot more than you think.
In this case, the team with the higher GF wins—and that would be Newcastle.
A couple more stops by Manchester United, and they could’ve secured the trophy to themselves.
What If Two Teams or More are Tied for the Same Points, GD, and GF?
If the teams that are tied are not competing for a championship, relegation, or qualifications to other competitions, then they would occupy the same position.
If they are competing for any of those things, they would play in a playoff match on a neutral ground. This is to eliminate the home-court advantage.
This rarely happens, but if it does, it would be the most important game of the season for both teams.
Notable League Soccer Table Examples
I will give you a couple of examples to show you the importance of playing hard throughout the season. Even a single goal can be the difference between winning a championship and being stuck in second place.
In the 2011–12 Premier League season, Manchester City and Manchester United both ended up with 89 points at the end of the season. They were both in the running for the championship.
What ended up happening is the winner was decided by the GD (Goal Difference). Manchester City ended up winning the championship because of their superior GD of 64, versus the 56 GD of Manchester United.
Also, in the same league, during the 1988–89 season, Arsenal won the league championship because of higher GF. They tied for the same points and GD with Liverpool.