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Saturday, 19 January, 2019

Stronger sides likelier to bounce back

The Soccer Boffin with words of wisdom

Bournemouth grabbed a late winner against Liverpool
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There were two spectacular comebacks the other weekend, one in the Premier League and one in the FA Cup. Bournemouth recovered from 3-1 down to beat Liverpool 4-3. Wimbledon rallied from 3-0 down to beat Curzon Ashton 4-3. Bookmakers’ odds reached 375-1 and 500-1.

The chance of coming from behind to win will vary during a match with the time remaining, the score and the difference in ability between the teams. The stronger the opponents, the larger the deficit, the shorter the time remaining – all diminish the chance of turning the tables.

Even before kick-off Bournemouth were underdogs at home to Liverpool. League One Wimbledon were favourites at National League North Curzon Ashton. Generally speaking, which team in a match is most likely to come from behind and win – the stronger or the weaker?

The answer may not be obvious. If they fall behind, the stronger team are more likely to be able to score the goals they need to come back. But the weaker team are more likely to fall behind in the first place. So which is it? The ability to recover from a setback is more important than the risk of suffering a setback. The stronger team are more likely than the weaker to come from behind and win.

I looked at what happened in Premier and Football League games during the last 19 seasons, 1997-98 to 2015-16. I separated games into groups according to the difference in final league positions between teams.

The idea was to gather together similar types of games. For each group I calculated the number of home wins and away wins, how often the home team came from behind to win and how often the away team came from behind to win.

If there was a 30 per cent chance of a team winning there was about a five per cent chance of them winning from behind. If there was a 60 per cent chance of a team winning there was approximately a nine per cent chance of them winning from behind. The greater the chance of winning by any means the greater the chance of winning from behind.

In every match there are two teams who could bounce back to victory. Even the team who take the lead could fall behind afterwards then haul themselves in front again. In 11 per cent of Premier and Football League games there was a come-from-behind victory.

It was something that happened roughly once every weekend in the Premier League and the three divisions of the Football League – though more often teams overhauled a one-goal deficit than the two- and three-goal walls clambered over by Bournemouth and Curzon Ashton.

Top strikers worth seven points a year

Sergio Aguero started a four-match ban on Saturday when Manchester City played Leicester. He was sent off the week before when City lost to Chelsea. They lost to Leicester.

How much difference does it make when a team play without their best striker? Some teams have better goal-getters than others, and Aguero is superior to most, if not all, in the Premier League. We can answer the question generally, though. We can come up with a ballpark figure.

I recorded results over the last eight seasons for every Premier League team with and without their top scorer. In spread betting terms, the difference was equivalent to two ticks on a supremacy spread – two-tenths of a goal.

With their best striker teams scored an average of 1.4 goals. Without him they scored an average of 1.2 goals. The difference was two-tenths of a goal.

A typical top scorer, therefore, might be worth up to eight goals a season. If he played in every match his team could expect to score eight goals more than if his deputy played in every match.

And those eight goals could generate an extra seven points. With their leading scorer teams averaged 1.42 points per game. Without him they averaged 1.24 points per game. The difference was 0.18 points per game, equivalent over a whole season of 38 games to seven points.

In terms of wins, draws and losses, playing without their leading scorer reduced a team’s chance of winning any given match by an average of seven per cent.

Club World Cup fails to inspire

The Club World Cup hots up this week when the champions of Europe and South America arrive in Japan for the semi-finals. Perhaps I should have said thaws out a bit.

Real Madrid represent Europe, Atletico Nacional of Colombia represent South America.

The Club World Cup brings together the champions of governing body Fifa’s seven regions and one guest. It has done so annually since 2005. It arouses little enthusiasm because rarely does anyone from the rest of the world beat the representatives of Europe or South America.

European champions have won 11 semi-finals out of 11 and eight finals. Liverpool, Barcelona and Chelsea all lost 1-0 in finals to teams from Brazil – Sao Paulo, Internacional and Corinthians.

South American champions have won nine semi-finals out of 11. In 2010 Internacional lost to African champ­ions TP Mazembe from DR Congo, in 2013 Atletico Mineiro of Brazil lost to Raja Casablanca, who were guest entrants from host country Morocco. No other teams from outside Europe or South America have reached the final.

If they fall behind, the stronger team are more likely to be able to score the goals they need to come back. But the weaker team are more likely to fall behind in the first place
E.W. Terms
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