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Oct 1, 2015
Oct 1, 2015

Analysing the influx of EPL away wins

Analysing the influx of EPL away wins
We are now seven weeks into the 2015/16 EPL season and away wins seem to be the order of the day, 37% of matches played so far have ended with the visitors picking up three points. Our soccer expert, Mark Taylor, studies the historical statistics to see if this trend is likely to continue.

There has been much media speculation about the increase in away wins during the opening weeks of the English Premier League season, just six home teams tasted victory in the opening 30 matches, compared to the 13 wins for the visitors.

Commentators, bloggers and former players, such as Danny Higginbotham have speculated that the figures support a sea change in the way Premier League teams are approaching matches, with a greater emphasis on counter attacking soccer, especially from visiting teams.

The ideas are interesting from a tactical viewpoint, but also have a practical application in betting if away wins are to become more common and whether or not this change is being reflected in Pinnacle's match and handicap odds.

Do the statistics match the theory?

The decline of home field advantage in soccer has been well documented, home teams in the four English leagues won their games by an average of nearly 0.5 of a goal per game in the mid 1980’s, but the general trend has been downwards and was approaching just three tenths of a goal by 2012.

This decline has obvious implications for the likelihood of a home win, a side who are around half a goal superior to their opponent may expect to win nearly 49% of games, compared to just 44% if that advantage is reduced to three tenths of a goal.

However, if we focus solely on the Premier League, the apparent decline has been much less dramatic.

Home sides won 46% of their games in the first Premier League season in 1992/93 and 45% last season. The trend line from 1992 to 2015 for the percentage of home wins actually slopes very gently upwards, possibly indicating that home sides have become marginally more successful when measured by wins in the top flight.

The same, paradoxically, is true for away wins; there has also been an upward trend in the percentage of successful away days. This apparent contradiction is resolved by a decline in drawn matches, as a result of the increased scoring rates in the Premier League.

The individual seasons, in common with home and away wins, do not show incremental year on year change, but the trend is for higher scoring since the initial Premier League season and, consequently, fewer drawn matches.

So, there is little in the history of the Premier League to suggest away teams are gaining ground on home teams to the extent suggested by recent results.

The pitfalls of short-term variation

Drawing conclusions from limited sample sizes is always a risk. Short-term variation may produce outcomes that are not representative of the results that will be produced in larger samples.

For example, 2011/12, even in an era of gradually increasing scoring, was particularly goal laden in the early part of the season, averaging just short of three goals per match.

Such an apparent increase in scoring may have occurred simply by chance in fewer than 100 of the 380 matches. Over the season as a whole, goals were scored at only slightly greater rates than had been produced in the previous and subsequent two seasons.

So, although narrative driven explanations, such as increasing counter attacks favouring away teams, may seem plausible, we may simply be seeing short term variation over 60 matches rather than away teams becoming more successful.

The actual results so far are merely one possible combination of outcomes and using either a rating system or bookmaker’s odds for the 2015/16 season, we may simulate the range of outcomes that may occur.

This allows us to see if the actual outcomes are extreme enough to entertain the idea that there has been a fundamental change in the way in which Premier League games are contested.

The first 60 games produced 19 home wins, 18 draws and 23 away wins, a success rate of 31.67% for home teams, seven fewer wins than predicted by the match day probabilities.

Also, the initial 60 games of 2015/16 may contain events that are unique to that particular dataset, counter attacking away teams has been suggested, but a more transparent accumulation of events has been red cards.

Red cards are shown more frequently to the away team, they generally make more tackles and commit more fouls in their own third of the field, so, in turn, are more likely to have players dismissed.

In 2014/15, two thirds of red cards were shown to visiting players, but after 60 matches of this season, dismissals have been equally split between host and visitor. Predictably, playing with ten men, or nine in the case of Stoke hosting WBA, reduces a side’s chances of winning, especially if shown early in a game.

Conclusion

In short, small sample sizes sometimes produce extreme outcomes for a variety of random, non-repeatable reasons, so it is unrealistic to expect away wins to remain ahead of home victories.

The first 30 Premier League matches of 2015/16 were even more extreme in terms of away wins, but this didn’t herald a continuation of away dominance. The following 30 “out of sample” matches produced 13 home wins, 7 draws and 10 away victories, virtually identical to the most likely outcomes based on the match odds.

The Premier League may eventually follow the trend that has seen the gradual erosion of home field advantage, but short term variation is a more likely explanation for the elevated level of success for away teams seen so far in 2015/16.

Low margin markets on Premier League games are available at Pinnacle Sports

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Having graduated with a degree in Chemistry, Mark embarked on a career with a major UK brewery. However, his love for sports and numbers was always at the back of his mind. He has been writing about the statistical side of sports, mainly soccer and NFL, for over 20 years and has a particular interest in the randomness and uncertainty inherent in the numbers.
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