The First Goal In Soccer
Scoring the first goal in a soccer match usually has a big impact. It can put a top team at a huge advantage, a mediocre team with a strong defence in a commanding position and can put a conceding team with a weak attack at a distinct disadvantage.
Soccer is not like tennis or cricket where numerous points, games or runs are scored. Soccer is about goals and only a few are scored during the course of a match, so every one is crucial.
Once the ball hits the back of the net for the first time in a game, the outcome of that game is much easier to predict. You still need to look at every game in isolation but the general stats make it easier to predict the likelihood of a team winning / losing.
Having access to these kinds of stats is very useful, especially in relation to live betting with bookmakers or on the betting exchanges. The most important ‘occurrence’ in a soccer match is a goal and by using soccer data, calculations can be made as to the chances of a team that scores first, winning the game.
Premier League First Goal Stats
Over the seven years to the 15/16 season in the Premier League, the team scoring the first goal, won the game around 70% of the time, with a draw occurring in 18.5% of games and a team coming from behind to win in 11.5% of games. Naturally team strength varies, and if you split up the Premier League table into five sections, the percentages of wins, draws and losses change.
You can see from the above table that if a top four team goes ahead, then they win the match over 80% of the time. A bottom team only has around a 50/50 chance of winning.
Chances of a Comeback
This table shows more clearly the chances of a comeback when the first goal is conceded. The league table is again split into sections of four teams. The result is pretty much what you would expect.
A top four team will only lose around 6% of games if they score first, whereas bottom four teams will only win around 6.5% of games when conceding first. This is useful information for punters and traders, who can estimate the likelihood of a team winning, losing or drawing depending on which team puts the ball in the back of the net first.
Odds and probability after the first goal
The odds during a live soccer match change constantly. Using Pinnacle’s odds from the moment immediately following the first goal, we can look at how the odds offered compared with what finally happened in the games.
The table below from the Premier League 2015/16 season details the difference between Pinnacle Sportsbook’s implied probability of an outcome after the first goal is scored and the actual proportion of the time that it occurred. E.g. the average odds for a top four team winning after scoring first, implied they had a 72% chance of victory, but it actually occurred in 75% of matches; giving a difference of 3%.
It’s interesting to see that the least amount of variation exists at the top and bottom of the table because it is the the top quality teams and poorest quality teams that will usually be the the easiest to predict.
From a betting angle, the attractive opportunities existed on teams who finished between 5th and 8th, losing after scoring first. Here the probability implied by the odds were 5.9% greater than the amount of times it actually occurred.
The tricky part is working out when this will happen! It only happened six times during the relevant season. However, four of the six games were away from home and the two home defeats were against top four sides, so neither of these results was a great surprise.
Also the sample is not huge, in a different season it could very well be that e.g. teams 9-12 produce the opportunities for bettors.
There are many variables in soccer matches, so relying completely on the relatively ‘tight’ percentages above will never be a reliable way to profit. The time of the first goal is obviously important, whether the team is playing at home or away, and there will also be the massive results that come in that deviate from what is expected, for instance a poor quality team going behind, only to come back to win against a top four side on their home ground.
Watch each game and try to gauge what is happening, using the stats to back up your views.