Regaining early-goal habit would boost Sam
Wise words from the Soccer Boffin
West Brom opened the scoring in the sixth minute of their last three Premier League games.
Manager Tony Pulis stresses the value of the first goal. His teams have not always scored so early, but over the years they have scored the first goal more often than other goals.
With West Bromwich, Crystal Palace and Stoke, Pulis has managed in 297 Premier League games. His teams scored 48 per cent of first goals and 42 per cent of other goals.
Another manager who emphasises the advantage of getting the first goal is Sam Allardyce. He has managed in 477 Premier League games with Crystal Palace, Sunderland, West Ham, Blackburn, Newcastle and Bolton. His teams scored 50 per cent of first goals and 44 per cent of other goals.
If Palace avoid relegation, one of the reasons probably will be that Allardyce has got them to do what he got other teams to do uncommonly often. He has not yet. Palace under Allardyce have scored first in only two out of eight Premier League games.
In his autobiography Allardyce wrote: “The stats say that if you strike first, then 80 per cent of the time you don’t lose.” Since Allardyce started managing in the Premier League 88 per cent of teams who scored first have not lost.
To some extent this is because the first goal in a match is scored more often than not by the better team, who are likely to score most of any other goals as well.
But there is something else. In a low-scoring sport such as football the first goal is more significant than in high-scoring sports.
A football team who score first cannot lose unless there are at least two more goals.
The average time of the first goal in Premier League games over the last 15 seasons was the 31st minute. In 56 per cent of games fewer than two goals were scored after the 31st minute.
Allardyce and Pulis have watched their teams score the first goal six per cent more often than other goals. But that raises a question. If there are things a team can do to increase their chance of scoring the first goal, why not do them for the rest of the match and increase their chance of scoring later goals?
After all, the best way to defend a lead is to extend a lead.
Jose Mourinho is another manager associated with the first goal. When Mourinho coached Real Madrid he was interviewed for a television programme by Diego Maradona. Mourinho told Maradona: “I score and I win. You score and you don’t know if you win.” It seemed to confirm Mourinho’s reputation as a coach who wanted his teams to win 1-0. The stats do not support that conclusion.
Mourinho has managed in major European Leagues with Manchester United, Chelsea (twice), Real Madrid and Inter. His teams scored the first goal often, as they should have done – they are rich, high-profile teams with the most expensive players. But they scored other goals slightly more frequently. Mourinho’s teams scored 72 per cent of first goals and 73 per cent of other goals.
Throughout a match a team’s aim should be the same as it should be at the beginning: to maximise their chance of scoring and not conceding the next goal.
Minnows' ponds are not always small
After Chelsea drew 1-1 in the Premier League at Burnley, manager Antonio Conte said: “The pitch is small and this is better for the team that has to defend and play the long ball.
“You have less pitch to cover and then there is a good atmosphere with the supporters and I think it’s good.
“We found a team that thought to disrupt our football, to play this long ball and to fight the second ball.”
Managers, players and pundits often talk about the size of a pitch. This one is small, supposedly, and that one is big.
Either their eyes deceive them or the official data is wrong. Perhaps the size and proximity of stands can distort perspectives of a pitch.
Burnley play at Turf Moor, Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge. According to the Premier League website, the Turf Moor pitch measures 105 metres x 68m while the Stamford Bridge pitch measures 103m x 67.5m.
The Turf Moor pitch is officially two metres longer and half a metre wider than the Stamford Bridge pitch on which earlier in the season Chelsea beat Burnley 3-0.
Fifteen of the 20 Premier League pitches are said to be 105m x 68m.
Premier League rules say pitches must be 105m x 68m unless the Premier League give permission for other dimensions.
Presumably they gave permission to Chelsea, as well as Crystal Palace, Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham. Those pitches are reported to be slightly, but only slightly, smaller.
At the highest levels, pitches differ in size hardly at all.