A statistical look at the importance of the first goal and how it impacts chances of winning.
Soccer coaches are always emphasizing the need to start a game strong. They demand energy, they want movement, they expect you to win 50/50 balls, they yell for you to press, they want you to make sure you are spreading the field on offense, and keeping shape on defense. Why all this extra emphasis on the basics of winning? It’s the need for the first goal. Momentum is a big part of success in soccer. Let’s face it, soccer is a low scoring game. Therefore, common sense tells you that scoring the first goal increases the likelihood of winning a game. In fact, scoring the first goal increases your chance of winning a soccer match more than you might think. It surprised us!
We decided to research the importance of scoring the first goal and the statistical probably of winning or losing depending scoring the first goal. Or, even worse, giving up the first goal. We were amazed how important scoring first turned out to be.
I think it’s important to share that our statistics and findings are based upon Premier League matches. I am not sure to what extent the results differ from NWSL, MSL or youth soccer. I think it’s reasonable to assume that Premier League and other professional teams have the ability of changing formations and protecting leads. Conversely, I’m sure that Premier League teams have the ability to change to a more offensive formation when they give up the first goal, so maybe it all evens out? My experience with youth soccer is that coaches generally believe if they execute better things will improve. Therefore, these statistics may even underestimate the importance of scoring first in youth soccer.
In looking at hundreds of soccer matches over several seasons (see above graph), statistics show a team wins 67% of those games it scores first in. In addition, they draw (tie) in roughly 20%, which leaves only a 13% chance of losing. When you flip that statistic around(see graph below), that means the team that concedes the first goal only has a 13% chance of winning and a 20% chance of a draw.
Next we wanted to see to what extent being a home or away team had any impact on the results. It’s reasonable to assume a home team’s cheering fans, lack of travel and familiarity with the playing surface would enhance their ability to overcome giving up the first goal. In addition, an away team would certainly have their work cut out for them in trying to maintain a lead away from their home field.
The statistics do show that being the home team does increase your likelihood of overcoming giving up the first goal, and the findings do also indicate that a home team has an easier time protecting a 1-0 lead in a match.
Home Team Scores First:
Statistically this is the best scenario for a win. Being the home team and scoring first increases your odds of winning are 71%. The probability of a draw 18%, and a loss only 11%. So that means the home team has an 89% chance of avoiding a loss.
The worse scenario, in terms of statistics is being the away team and giving up the first goal. You have to fight the home team’s advantage of playing in front of their fans, on their playing surface, and of course they don’t have to deal with travel to the match. So, the probability of the away team winning after conceding the first goal is only 11%. They have an 18% chance of a draw, and 71% chance of losing.
Away Team Scores First:
In this scenario the away team scores first. When that happens the likelihood of a home team win is only 13%, which is surprisingly low. The odds for a draw are 26% and a loss happens 61% of the time. As for the away team scoring first means you have an 87% chance of avoiding a loss, since the odds of a win are 61% , draw 26%, and loss 13%.
The bottom line is scoring the first goal is very important is soccer. It provides a 71% chance of a win at home, 61% chance away. So, go hard those first few minutes and get that first goal!
Check out this amazing video of the 10 fastest soccer goals ever!