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Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Liverpool have a 43 per cent chance of becoming European champions

The soccer boffin has more words of wisdom

Mohamed Salah scores Liverpool's second goal against Roma
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On Tuesday it will be 50 years since an English club won the European Cup for the first time. Manchester United beat Benfica 4-1 after extra-time. Since then the European Cup has evolved into the Champions League.

When Saturday's final is over the total number of English European champions could rise to 13. England would then become the second most successful country, moving ahead of Italy but still behind Spain.

For that to happen Liverpool will have to beat Real Madrid. Liverpool are already the most successful English club with five wins. Madrid have won 12 times, more often than any other club and, before this game, as often as all English clubs combined. They won the first five finals and have reached four of the last five.

So what is the chance that Liverpool will beat Madrid, as they did in the 1981 final?

I started by looking up the Champions League results of Spanish and English teams. Then I made an adjustment for how much better Madrid have been for several years than typical Spanish entrants and how much better Liverpool have been this season than typical British entrants.

This suggested to me that Madrid are slightly superior to Liverpool, to the extent that at a neutral venue in Kiev they should have a 54 per cent chance of scoring each goal that is scored.

How many goals might be scored? Perhaps more than on some set-piece occasions.

Finals have been higher-scoring in the Champions League than in some other competitions – an average of 2.8 goals in normal time over the previous 20. And Liverpool, like Madrid, are better at attacking than defending. My total goals spread expectation for the match would be 3.3, which equates to a 64 per cent chance of over 2.5 goals and a 36 per cent chance of under 2.5.

And putting all that together suggests to me for normal time a 44 per cent chance of a Madrid win, a 25 per cent chance of a draw and a 31 per cent chance of a Liverpool win.

Including extra-time and penalties if required, the chance of lifting the trophy would be 57 per cent for Madrid and 43 per cent for Liverpool.

Referee not afraid to show his cards

Former referee Urs Meier said players behave better in a final than in earlier rounds. He refereed the 2002 Champions League final between Real Madrid and Leverkusen and showed two yellow cards. Data from some knockout competitions supports his thesis. But not from other years in the Champions League.

In most bookings markets each yellow counts as ten points and each red as 25. The average make-up in Champions League finals has been 44 – slightly higher in recent years than in more distant ones, though not by much.

Milorad Mazic will referee this year's final. He featured at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 and will feature again at the 2018 World Cup.

His Champions League average of 46 bookings points over 26 games across six seasons is a couple of points higher than the average for all referees, which is neither here nor there. But he is not afraid to show cards in a final if he feels they are necessary – he showed seven yellow cards in the 2017 Confederations Cup final between Germany and Chile.

EFL playoffs are not a lottery

The EFL playoffs are not a lottery. A lottery is decided by luck. The EFL playoffs are decided by the skills of the players. Usually there is not much difference between those skills, but whatever difference there is can be discerned in results.

I studied one-legged EFL playoff finals, which started in 1990. First I looked at the regular season results of finalists. These suggested to me that the teams who had finished higher in the regular season should have scored 52 per cent of all goals in finals. Then I looked at what did happen. Teams who had finished highest in the regular season scored 52 per cent of all the goals in finals.

In five out of six semi-finals this season the team that had finished highest in the regular season went through – a better success rate than in most previous seasons.

Fulham finished one place and five points above Aston Villa in the Sky Bet Championship, and for that reason they are slightly more to win promotion to the Premier League in Saturday's playoff final.


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Finals have been higher-scoring in the Champions League than in some other competitions – an average of 2.8 goals in normal time
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