Goals really are rare and precious events, more than 30% of matches end with one goal or none and the spread of results between the EPL is not that different from those across the top continental leagues.

But surely, isnt the football played in Spain different from that played in England?

Isnt the footwork of the Spaniards and South Americans plying their trade in Europe markedly different from the danceless Saxons?

If you compare the results of the major European leagues on any given weekend, they show no noticable difference.

The 2005 Champions League final was one of over 5,000 matches played in Liverpools history, but was the first time in 112 years of existence that they had recovered from 3 goals down.

Those kind of results are rare and wonderful, but are hardly unprecedented and certainly not miraculous.

There are endless examples. Spurs 3 up at half time v Man Utd and ending up losing 5-3 and the Eusebio engineered World Cup comeback v North Korea in 1966 to name a couple more.

Such occurences are uncommon, but that they happen at all is attributable to the law of large numbers.

” If you do something long enough, every possible outcome will occur”

Therefore the more you do something, the more likely you are to see an unlikely outcome at least once.

There is no law other than that of chance preventing you seeing a team go unbeaten for an entire season, or losing the first 12 matches, or even a beach ball settling a fixture. Over the long haul everything is going to happen at least once.

Chance is a central element of any given football match and there are people out there who’s very existence proves it.

Not managers or strikers or goalkeepers, but…


Those men and women whose livelihoods depend on understanding who wins and who loses.

A bookmakers career is built on chance, if football matches were predictable nobody would gamble, but while they are not entirely foreseeable, certain things like form and injuries etc.. are known ahead of time which provides the basis for setting odds.

The lower the odds, the more unlucky the favourite has to be to lose and the more the opponents have to rely on luck to win.

Luck and “on the day” form decide the contest.

Is it harder to predict the outcome of a football match than a tennis match?

How often do the favourites across different disciplines and countries end up winning the game?

Well, in football it turns out to be only a slight majority (just over 50%).

In tennis, basketball and american football it is around 67-70%.

Is football more susceptible to chance or are the bookies just bad at setting the odds for it?

Favourites aren’t all created equal, some are favoured by a lot, others by very little. If coin tossing were a sport there would be no favourite, the odds would always be evens (2.00).

Football is very clearly different from other sports, Tennis and gridiron for example run at average odds for the favourite between 1.42 and 1.49, but in football the average median odds for favourites is 1.95, which means half the time in football, the favourite is not really the favourite. This is because in football, goals are rare and draws are common, making the favourite less likely to win.

The idea that football’s favourites only win about 50% of the time probably clashes with everything we think we know about the game, surely Man City v Hull is not like flipping a coin?

The quality of the squad largely determines the number of shots and each given shot has a 1 in 8 chance of being a goal, but statistical studies have found that, first and foremost fortune, then skill and fitness, and then things like momentum, ordained whether a team won, and by how many.

This will be a surprise to fans who believe a teams skill entirely controls what happens on the pitch.

Basically it is suggested that half of all football matches are decided by chance, not skill, the better team wins only half the time and football results resemble a coin toss.

Goals are tailor made for the analysis of luck, some are clearly the result of hard work on the training pitch and others are not : an unanticipated deflection, a spilled cross, a missed tackle, a backspinning ball, and a study of tens of thousands of goals has shown 45% were down to one of the elements of luck rather than skill.

So, about half of all goals contain a detectable, visible amount of good fortune. Football, both goalscoring and favourites winning is a 50/50 proposition, the match you see each weekend, the games that leave you in a state of utter jubilation or bitter disbelief, might as well be decided by the flip of a coin.


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