In the EPL, the team which scores the opening goal of a game goes on to win it 70 percent of the time. So if you're looking for the right way to bet in-play, this could be a good place to start. However, there is a wide range of variance within that figure as you would expect. For instance, since August 2015 the two Manchester clubs have both won just over 86 percent of their league games when they have opened the scoring.
By contrast, West Bromwich Albion only held on to win half of the matches where they scored first across the last three seasons. This proved particularly costly in 2017/18, as the Baggies won just six of the 17 matches where they broke the deadlock, and as they were relegated by just five points (plus goal difference) there were 11 games where they were in a good position to cut that deficit.
This is also an area where bettors should be wary of headline statistics, which are designed to grab their attention but can be misleading.
Liverpool have dropped a total of 47 points from league games in which they scored first over the past three seasons.
Liverpool have the worst record of the big six clubs, and only four teams in the Premier League have dropped more in this period.
However, the Reds have got the opening goal 72 times over the past three campaigns, which is a tally only Manchester City – with 76 – can top. While they would obviously want to do better when taking the lead, Liverpool have had the opportunity to drop so many points as they have scored first more often than most other sides. Swansea may have only dropped 33 points, but they only lead 38 times too.
Jürgen Klopp’s team are improving too. Liverpool dropped 19 points after scoring first in his first season, then 16 in 2016/17 and 12 last year. With the world’s most expensive defender and goalkeeper now on board, they may improve this record further in the new season.
Improvements in the big six
Over the past three years, the big six clubs in the Premier League have improved collectively on this front too. In 2015/16, they dropped a total of 90 points in 40 games from the total of 131 matches in which they scored first. This no doubt played a part in Leicester City being able to sneak through and shock the world by winning the league.
England’s big six teams then collectively dropped 60 points across a total of 26 occasions the following season, and then just 45 points from the 19 matches where they failed to win after scoring first in 2017/18. The strong appear to be getting stronger, and the weaker teams are succeeding at recovering matches against them less and less often.
And don’t forget the top six teams play each other 30 times in total each year too. Such matches end in a stalemate slightly more often as well.
Over the past three seasons, 32% of big six clashes have ended all square, compared to 25% for all other matches.
Plus score draws make up a massive chunk of matches where teams score first but don’t win when the top teams play each other. In the past three years, 22% of those league games fall into the score draw category, but when a big six side scores first against a smaller team, they have only drawn 4% of the time in the same period.
Defeats are obviously rarer, so based on the last three seasons we can say a big team only drops points when they score first against a bottom 14 side, 5% of the time.
Are there any patterns in the data?
But are there any patterns to when it happens, which could guide bettors? After all, the concept of momentum is widely cited in football, so is there any evidence teams throw leads away repeatedly in quick succession?
Yes and no. With the top clubs, the samples are often too small to make a firm case either way. Manchester United didn’t throw away a single point when they scored first this season, and while Spurs lost two leads in 2017/18, they were 31 matches apart so there was clearly no pattern there.
When it comes to the division as a whole, 11 of the 20 teams had a run of two games in a row where they scored first but didn’t win last season. Nine of them had a spell of three matches in five where it happened, and just three (Arsenal, Leicester and Southampton) had a run of three games in a row where they broke the deadlock but didn’t claim all three points.
The Gunners were the only EPL team to have a spell of four leads lost in five games, in a run from New Year’s Eve onwards. Losing an advantage against Chelsea is one thing, but Arsenal also did so against two teams who went on to be relegated in this period, which is definitely not acceptable.
Looking for patterns that might inform us of future outcomes throws up the usual problems with soccer betting. The sheer number of variables often makes it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions. There may have been at least one match where a team scored first and didn’t win (which was often a score draw) in every game week in the 2017/18 Premier League, but the data shows it’s not easy to predict who is going to do it and when. As we look ahead to the start of the season, one thing's for sure. We're bound to see another EPL season full of surprises and excitement.