Football Form, Myths and Truths

What is football form?

Traditionally, ‘football form’ refers to the current state or performance level of a team or player. It is a measure of how well a team or player is doing, taking into account their recent results and overall level of success.

If a team that has won several games in a row they would be considered to be in good form, whilst a team that has lost several games in a row would be considered to be in poor form. So it is with players, strikers for instance, who have been scoring lots of goals and whilst other struggle to make an impact.

However, it isn’t as simple as that.

Football Form, Science, Teams and Strikers

Scientific analysis suggests that the scoring streaks of the best football teams and strikers are no more due to ‘form’ than they are to chance. It shouldn’t be so hard to grasp for the bettors amongst you. How often have you gone on a losing run and also a winning run? Streaks simply ‘occur’ and wins and losses often come in ‘batches’.

So why should it not be the same regarding the form of teams and strikers? Both will have periods of good form and good luck, that lead to a run of goals. Yet most will also encounter periods of bad form and bad luck, that lead to periods of goal drought. These streaks can be attributed to many things; a run of tougher or easier games, a change of formation due to injuries, a series of away matches, or any number of other reasons unrelated to the confidence or ability of the team or the striker.

For some time now football has been subjected to rigorous analysis and testing. Statistics are more detailed and accurate than ever before. We love our football pundits (mostly) but now more than ever their ‘arbitrary comments’ should be ignored. We no longer have to trust their statements in isolation. We now have data.

In 2008 one academic wrote:

‘Over the course of the next decade football managers and clubs are going to realise that data is important. With millions of pounds on the line, they are not going to continue to evaluate footballers by flicking through sports magazines and watching videos. Data will be everything.’

So it is today.

Let’s get to it with some data driven analysis.

Football Teams and Strikers Have Runs of ‘Form’


In football, the phrase a ‘hot vein of form’ – is a term commonly used to describe a period when a team or a striker is scoring more goals than usual. This phenomenon is observed in many sports where athletes go through phases of exceptional performance.

Yet data shows that there is no real ‘relationship’ between one goal and another. There is no increase in probability of a striker or a team scoring in the next game, simply because they have scored in the previous game.

It is true that when a team or a striker is confident and playing well, they are more likely to score goals, which further boosts their confidence and leads to a ‘positive feedback loop’. Yet equally, a team or striker might become complacent.

We know that a team or a striker’s performance can be influenced by many factors, including the quality of the opposition, overall tactics, and player roles within the team. Form, however, as a concept, is as ‘likely’ as the run of heads or tails that you might get in a coin flip exercise.

(Image: The Sun) Teams in ‘form’? Or just winning the games that they should generally expect to win?

Teams Have a Higher Chance of Conceding Just After They Have Scored


In football, there is a commonly held belief that teams are at greater risk of conceding a goal immediately after they have just scored.

The idea behind this belief is that after scoring a goal, players may experience a momentary lapse in concentration or become overconfident, which can lead to mistakes or complacency in their defensive play. Additionally, the opposition team may feel a greater sense of urgency and motivation to equalise quickly, which can lead to more attacking play and increased pressure on the scoring team’s defence.

Yet there is no real evidence to support this theory. Some football teams are able to maintain their focus and hold their defensive shape after scoring – with many even use the momentum from the goal just scored, to push for another.

Ultimately, whether a team is more at risk of conceding after scoring will depend on a variety of factors, including the players’ mental and physical state, the tactics employed by both teams and the score at the stage of the game.

It Really is a Game of Two Halves


In terms of goals scored, yes. Most of the action takes place is in the second half. It varies by league (sometimes a single dominant team can distort the stats) but the split is in the region of 46% for first half goals and 54% for second half goals.

Goalkeepers Should Stand Still When Facing Penalties


Goalkeepers have to make a split-second decision when facing a penalty kick whether to dive or stay on their feet. The decision can have a significant impact on their ability to save the penalty.

While diving is often the go-to approach for goalkeepers, studies have shown that staying still can be just as effective, if not more so, in some situations.

Research suggests that goalkeepers who stay in the centre of the goal are more likely to save penalties than those who dive to one side or the other.

Team Celebrations Mean Better Team Results


Football teams celebrations boost team morale and cohesion and it can also have a positive impact on their performance and results.

There is evidence to support that celebrating goals together can contribute to a team’s success, building a sense of unity and camaraderie amongst the players. This can lead to better communication and cooperation on the pitch. It can also help to increase motivation, confidence and overall performance.

Team celebrations are good for morale

Taking the Lead just before Half-Time makes a Win Exponentially More Likely


Taking the lead just before half-time in a football match can provide a significant psychological advantage to a team. It can boost their morale and confidence, while demoralising the opposition. One study concluded there was no difference between taking the lead just before half-time, when compared to taking the lead at any other time during the first half. However, a larger study of tens of thousands of matches showed a small, but noticeable, difference in taking the lead just before half time.

One reason for this may be that taking the lead at this stage, can disrupt the opposition’s game plan and force them to make changes at half-time. It can also give the scoring team a tactical advantage, as they can afford to sit back and defend their lead in the second half, potentially catching the opposition on the counter-attack.

A Footballer’s Performance is Affected by Relative Income


Some argue that high salaries can lead to complacency and a lack of motivation among players, because their security is already assured.. Another argument is that they may become less willing to take risks because of the possibility of career ending injury and not push themselves to improve. Additionally, players who earn significantly less than their teammates can feel undervalued and demotivated, which can negatively impact their performance. Yet studies don’t support that theory.

A few good football player studies have been undertaken in relation to income. A Swedish study found that the more intelligent footballers existed in the higher league divisions and by default earned more. A German study showed that when a player’s salary rises, so does his performance, and vice versa. Also, it was not simply that better players earned higher salaries, but that the the desire to perform, as in many walks of life, depended on relative pay.

It is also important to recognise that footballers in the top tiers, probably have a better chance of staying motivated and improving as players. They have access to the first class facilities encompassing training, coaching, equipment, nutrition, medical and so on.

In addition, highly paid players often feel a greater degree of responsibility to their fans and team-mates, which can motivate them to consistently perform at a highest level.

There is an Advantage Going First in a Penalty Shootout


Starting a penalty shoot-out in football can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on the situation and the teams involved.

On the one hand, starting a penalty shoot-out can give a team the opportunity to take an early lead and put pressure on their opponents. It can also give them the psychological advantage of being the first to take a penalty, which can boost their confidence and morale.

On the other hand, starting a penalty shoot-out can also put pressure on the team taking the first penalty to score, as a miss or a save can give the other team an immediate advantage. Additionally, if the first penalty is missed, it can demoralise the team and give the other team a significant advantage going forward.

Studies show definitively that statistically there is no advantage in going first in a penalty shootout. More surprisingly perhaps, there was no home advantage either – in fact this was less so than the frequency of home teams winning at during the regular domestic season.

Does Second-Leg Home Advantage Exist?


The theory behind home advantage is a simple one, a home team has the support of their home fans and the familiarity of their own stadium.

Not as widely appreciated is that although in two-legged cup ties, both teams will play home and away, the team playing at home in the second leg has the ‘overall’ advantage. It amounts to about a 3.6% advantage.

This might be down to the fact that often there is more on the line in the second leg. In an ‘all or nothing’ environment, home factors can intensify in the decisive second game.

Moreover, some teams and managers are very good away from home in the first leg. They are masters of securing a result and gauging the strengths and weaknesses of the other team. They will often leave an away first leg tie with a significant real and psychological advantage.


Whatever your instincts and beliefs regarding football form, myths and truths, the science and data to prove or disprove your theory is now widely available.

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