You can't say we weren't warned. The first taste of vast amounts of added time came at the 2022 World Cup as FIFA moved to increase effective playing time, and this season it has hit the club game.
In Qatar, average stoppage time -- the total played above the allotted 90 minutes across both halves -- was 10:11 (10 minutes and 11 seconds), compared to 6:30 in Russia in 2018. That rise of 56.67% was partly due to the increase in available substitutions in a match from six to 10, plus possible concussion replacements, but also FIFA's drive to give the fans more football for their money.
Effective playing time -- when the ball is in play -- in 2018 was 55:41, while in Qatar it rose to 59:47, an increase of 4:06. Whether you thought FIFA was going too far by extending the clock, it was achieving its aim of getting the ball in play for close to an hour.
Transferring this into the domestic leagues has not been met with approval from players already stretched by a packed fixture schedule, but what has been the impact? Does it differ across the Premier League, LaLiga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1? Which leagues have seen the most stoppage time? Has it increased the amount of football we get? And do the clubs with the most resources get more out of it?
Data provided by StatsPerform and ESPN Stats & Information.
First up, surely a loss of playing time was VAR's fault?
The video assistant referee (VAR) was introduced at different times across Europe's big five leagues, so we looked at the three seasons before its introduction, and the seasons afterward (excluding this season) -- and it picks up an unexpected stat.
While VAR protocol says that all time lost through reviews should be added on, it has seemed like this probably wasn't happening. Indeed, despite every goal needing to be checked by the VAR, and lengthy stoppages while offside technology was used, stoppage time has seen only a modest increase post-VAR introduction.
Only LaLiga, at 2:43, saw a sizeable rise, with the lowest being the 1:04 in the Premier League.
If the added time is to make up for VAR stoppages, this in itself shouldn't have an effect on the ball-in-play time. After all, this is just time to replace those moments when a referee is stood with their finger in their ear awaiting instructions.
Yet almost all leagues have seen effective playing time increase in the seasons following the introduction of VAR.
Ligue 1 saw a rise of 3:02 of playing time, while added time went up only 1:07. In LaLiga, effective time rose 2:24 in the seasons with VAR.
Only the Bundesliga suffered a loss of ball-in-play time after VAR. Despite stoppage time rising by 1:38, the average time of action fell by 24 seconds.
How has the adjustment affected time this season?
Pierluigi Collina, the head of refereeing for FIFA, wanted to make up for time lost around substitutions, goal celebrations, injuries and time-wasting, accurately adding on any seconds lost. We can now make some early conclusions about its impact.
For this, we looked at average ball-in-play time and stoppage time over the previous three seasons (2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23) and compared that to what we've seen in the first third of this season.
Stoppage time has understandably increased across all leagues, with LaLiga seeing the biggest rise of 4:10. The change in average added time for LaLiga over recent seasons is dramatic -- from 4:11 before VAR, to 7:15 in the previous three seasons, and now up to 11:25 with the new playing regulations.
Only the Premier League, at 11:35, has greater average added on time than LaLiga. At the start of the season, Howard Webb, the refereeing chief in England, said he was expecting a year-on-year rise in added time of 3:23 to 11:49. That judgement wasn't far off.
Serie A at 2:35 has seen the smallest change in additional time.
Which league has been most successful?
This is all about getting the ball out on the pitch for longer, so the true test is the effective playing time.
The Premier League might have the most added time, but the vast majority of it is with the ball in play -- a rise of 3:05 is by far the highest, with no other league managing to add more than 1:52 (Bundesliga.)
At 58:32 the Premier League is hitting the ball-in-play target of 58 minutes set by Webb in the summer and has taken Ligue 1's crown for the highest effective playing time among the top leagues.
Compare that to LaLiga, which has added 4:10 to its games but just 1:26 of playing time. Spain's top flight still has the game being played for under 55 minutes, the worst among the top five league by 90 seconds.
With Serie A having a smaller rise in added time, it's understandable that ball-in-play time is also up just 48 seconds.
Has it brought more late goals?
The Premier League and LaLiga, with the greatest rises in added time, have both seen a dramatic increase in late goals.
England has seen a remarkable 38 stoppage-time goals in the first 12 rounds of matches, and it seems certain to smash recent records. Indeed, it is on course for a 114% rise -- from an average of 56 in the previous three seasons to 120 this campaign.
In fact, 10.3% of all goals scored in the Premier League have come after the 90th minute, with LaLiga (8.45%) and Serie A (8.20%) just behind.
Sixteen of those goals have been result altering, with the outcome of two matches changed in the last weekend before the international break. Wolverhampton Wanderers netted twice after the 90th minute to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1, while Chelsea were awarded a spot kick for a 4-4 draw at home to Manchester City.
LaLiga has had slightly fewer goals, but a higher proportion have provided points with 65% changing the result. In the last game week, Real Sociedad scored twice away at Almeria for a 3-1 victory, while a 98th-minute goal gave Athletic Club a 4-3 win at home to Celta Vigo.
Contrast that to Germany, which has suffered a fall in late goals despite the increase in time.
Serie A, too, is down on the recent average yet the league still has a high percentage coming in stoppage time this season.
Has it benefited the bigger clubs in the Premier League?
The COVID-19-influenced move from three substitutes to five was perceived to give an advantage to the bigger clubs with the greater depth to their squads.
After all, if you can bring a £100 million player off the bench as your fourth or fifth change, it has to be more advantageous than an untried youth-team player.
Those clubs who would fight tooth and nail to hold on to something against opponents with more resources would now have to hang on much longer. Added to that, their tactics to run down the clock and waste time could no longer be as applied with referees clamping down on players delaying the restart.
Whether you think that's an art or something to be eradicated will depend upon who you support and how you view the game.
Would adding more effective playing time, thus making games longer, only turn the dial against the smaller teams yet further?
In the Premier League, the answer is unequivocally yes. Of the 38 added-time goals, 18 (47.36%) have been scored by the so-called "Big Six" clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham.)
More telling is result-altering stoppage time goals. Of the 16, 10 of them (62.5%) have been scored by the Big Six -- though three of those came against fellow Big Six clubs.
Over the past three seasons, the Big Six have scored an average of 10.33 result-altering stoppage time goals in 38 rounds. That has almost been surpassed this term after only 12 rounds.
There's no doubt that, from an admittedly small sample of 120 games, the increase in added time has been a rich source of points for the Premier League's biggest clubs.
In fact, until Wolves managed to scored twice in injury time against Spurs, no Big Six team had dropped points in added time against a non-Big Six club.
Of the 16 result-altering stoppage-time goals scored in the Premier League this season:
- 10 have been scored by the Big Six across eight matches
- 3 have been scored in Big Six vs. Big Six matches
- 7 have provided the Big Six with points vs. non-Big Six opponents
- 12 (75%) have been scored by the home team
- Dejan Kulusevski (99:53) has scored the latest goal
- Only Wolves have taken points off a Big Six club
Result-altering stoppage time goals 2023-24
- Newcastle United 1-2 Liverpool (Darwin Núñez, 90+3)
- Brentford 2-2 AFC Bournemouth (Bryan Mbeumo, 90+3)
- Arsenal 2-1 Manchester United (Declan Rice, 90+6)
- Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Sheffield United (Richarlison, 90+8)
- Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Sheffield United (Kulusevski, 90+10)
- Aston Villa 2-1 Crystal Palace (Douglas Luiz, 90+8)
- Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Liverpool (Joël Matip OG, 90+6)
- Manchester United 1-1 Brentford (Scott McTominay, 90+3)
- Manchester United 2-1 Brentford (McTominay, 90+7)
- Luton Town 2-2 Nottingham Forest (Elijah Adebayo, 90+2)
- Fulham 0-1 Manchester United (Bruno Fernandes, 90+1)
- Sheffield United 2-1 Wolves (Oliver Norwood, 90+10)
- Luton Town 1-1 Liverpool (Luis Díaz, 90+5)
- Wolves 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur (Pablo Sarabia, 90+1)
- Wolves 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur (Mario Lemina, 90+7)
- Chelsea 4-4 Manchester City (Cole Palmer, 90+5)
Result-altering stoppage time goals by club:
- 3: Manchester United, Tottenham
- 2: Liverpool, Wolves
- 1: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Brentford, Chelsea, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United
What about the other European leagues?
It has been far less pronounced elsewhere. Indeed, in Italy only one result-altering goal has been scored by the four biggest clubs -- Andrea Cambiaso's 97th-minute winner for Juventus against Hellas Verona. That said, until Viktor Kovalenko's goal for Empoli against Napoli before the international break, not one of those four clubs had dropped points either. Serie A clubs are on course to score the same number of crucial late goals as last season, which is to be expected with a marginal increase of ball-in-play time.
In Spain, where there have been 20 result-altering late goals, only three have been scored by Atletico Madrid (0), Barcelona (1) and Real Madrid (2) -- and one of those was Jude Bellingham's winner in the Clasico.
Ligue 1 shows a drop in match-deciding late goals, but the league is now reduced to 18 teams, so fewer games are played.
What about changes since the start of this season?
Supporters always complain that new directives last a few weeks, then disappear and don't really have a lasting impact.
Indeed, since the first three weeks of the season there has been a correction across most of Europe's top leagues. LaLiga, Serie A and the Bundesliga have seen average added time drop by over 2 minutes. Only the Premier League has seen it rise further, though by only 28 seconds.
The fall in Spain, Italy and Germany still leaves added time much higher than in recent seasons, but it's nowhere near as dramatic as it was in August.
But when we look at ball-in-play time, we see another huge success for the Premier League. Added time might have risen slightly, but ball-in-play time has gone up by 2:32 compared to the early game weeks.
LaLiga is even more impressive, as while average added time has fallen by 2:22, the ball is now in play an extra 1:13. The Bundesliga, too, can consider this a success with 52 seconds more match time for a drop in added time of 52 seconds.
This is what the IFAB really wants to see as the season progresses -- added time falling and ball in play rising as players and officials adapt to the new regulations
The Premier League's longest games
Fulham 3-1 Sheffield United -- 113:54
A serious injury to a Sheffield United player was the cause of all the added time, 14 minutes in the first half, with Fulham netting their third goal in added on time.
Aston Villa 3-1 Crystal Palace -- 112:02
Villa won the game with two goals in stoppage time. The first came via a penalty, which the VAR advised should be overturned by the referee, who rejected that at the pitchside monitor.
Tottenham 1-4 Chelsea -- 111:15
With a whole host of VAR reviews, red cards and injuries it will come as no surprise that this month's meeting between the two London clubs is on the list. Chelsea scored twice in added time to rubber stamp their victory.
Tottenham 2-1 Sheffield United -- 109:15
All three goals in the game came in added time, a match early in the season when stoppage time was at its height.
Aston Villa 4-0 Everton -- 108:03
Another game played at the start of the season, and the only one to have no goals after the 90-minute point.