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Mar 2, 2018
Mar 2, 2018

Using first leg results to predict Champions League ties

Determining how first leg results impact qualification chances

What can bettors learn from first leg results?

Can first leg results be used to predict Champions League matches?

Using first leg results to predict Champions League ties

Two-legged Champions League ties present an interesting opportunity for bettors. How does the first leg result affect the return fixture? How often do teams qualify after a first leg defeat? Is a 2-1 home win a good result? Read on to find out more.

Fans of European soccer love it when February comes around as it signals the beginning of the knockout stages. After the first leg matches it’s common to see statistics shared detailing how often a team with a particular scoreline has progressed from a tie in the past.

Whilst that information is interesting, it is not so useful to bettors. Data on European competition goes back to 1955, and so much has changed in soccer in the intervening six decades.

Home teams used to win around 60% of the time in the 1960’s, but these days they prevail in around 45% of matches

Teams are now more accustomed to cross-continental travel, it is far easier to scout potential opponents and the financial changes in the game mean that, when the tournament starts, only a select few teams harbour realistic hopes of hoisting the trophy aloft the following May.

Perhaps most importantly, home advantage in European soccer has decreased over the past 50 years or so. Home teams used to win around 60% of the time in the 1960’s, but these days they prevail in around 45% of matches (source).

We therefore need a more focussed approach to using this data for our benefit. UEFA experimented with a second group stage in the Champions League around the turn of the century, but that ended in 2002/03.

It makes sense to focus on the seasons since then, as the tournament has retained a straight knockout from the last 16 onwards in that period. The level of home advantage in European ties hasn’t shifted much in that timeframe either.

The 196 ties in our sample have produced 134 different two-legged scoreline combinations, with only twelve of them occurring more than twice.

Fourteen seasons means we have a decent sample of 196 knockout ties to work with. The data is also widely available online and is simple to compile, which is always an added bonus for bettors.

However, there are so many combinations of first and second leg scores that using that data to attempt to accurately predict the scoreline in the second match would be a fool’s errand. The 196 ties in our sample have produced 134 different two-legged scoreline combinations, with only twelve of them occurring more than twice in the last 14 years.

Goals are a rare commodity in soccer at the best of times, but that’s especially true when looking at the majority of the most frequently seen scorelines across Champions League knockout ties.

Most common Champions League knockout stage results

Most Common Champions League Knockout Stage Results

First Leg

Second Leg

Aggregate (1st leg home side first)

Occurrences

1-1

1-2

3-2

5

0-0

1-0

0-1

5

1-0

1-0

1-1

5

0-1

0-0

0-1

4

0-1

1-0

0-2

4

There have been an average of 2.68 goals per game in Champions League knockout matches in the past fourteen years, which is broadly in line with the average goals per game figures for the big leagues.

A lot of these matches are perhaps more likely to be tight as there is so much at stake, and that is especially true as the competition progresses; there have been an average of 2.25 goals per semi-final match, compared to 2.75 across the two rounds prior.

From a betting perspective, we need to know how often the home and away side in the first leg qualifies for the next round. It would be ideal to know by what scoreline, but as the above shows, all combinations have very small samples historically.

The below table illustrates how often each team has qualified following the seven most common first leg results in the last 14 years.

Most common first leg scores and qualification percentages

Most common first leg scores and qualification percentages

First Leg Score

Number of Matches

Home Team Qualifies

Away Team Qualifies

Home Team Qualifies %

Away Team Qualifies %

1-0

27

20

7

74.1%

25.9%

1-1

25

7

18

28.0%

72.0%

0-0

20

5

15

25.0%

75.0%

2-1

19

10

9

52.6%

47.4%

0-1

15

1

14

6.7%

93.3%

0-2

12

0

12

0.0%

100.0%

2-2

11

2

9

18.2%

81.8%

There probably aren’t any real surprises here, but it’s still good to be able to quantify the outcomes with an eye on selecting bets ahead of second leg matches.

The most interesting example here is a 2-1 home win in the first leg, as it’s almost an even split of who goes on to qualify. If we exclude penalty shoot-outs, then there have been nine qualifications for each (Bayern Munich beat Real Madrid in the 2012 semi-finals on penalties, after both sides won 2-1 at home).

This makes sense, as it is the only one of the common first leg scores where a side wins without keeping a clean sheet. Whilst nothing is guaranteed in soccer, winning a first leg tie without conceding a goal almost always results in qualification for the next round.

The effect of a clean sheet on qualification percentage

First leg clean sheets and qualification percentages

First Leg Result

Number of Matches

Home Team Qualifies

Away Team Qualifies

Home Team Qualifies %

Away Team Qualifies %

Home Win, Clean Sheet

46

35

11

76.1%

23.9%

Away Win, Clean Sheet

33

1

32

3.0%

97.0%

 

Clean sheets and qualification

Result

Number of Matches

Winner Qualifies

Loser Qualifies

Winner Qualifies %

Loser Qualifies %

Win with Clean Sheet

79

67

12

84.8%

15.2%

Only once has the away side won with a clean sheet but the home side has qualified. This occurred in 2011 when Bayern Munich won 1-0 at Inter Milan but then lost the second leg 3-2. In fact, that tie is the only time a visiting side has won the first match but gone out full stop.

If we expand the figures out to all wins, then unsurprisingly the statistics shift a little. However, whether a team wins at home or away in the first leg, they will still qualify far more often than not.

The effect of first leg win on qualification percentage

The interesting thing with the draw statistics is that the percentage of home team qualifications doesn’t change whether it is a score draw or not. This goes against what you would assume, as an away goal is seen as vital to qualifying.

An away team securing a 2-2 draw has gone through 82% of the time compared to 72% after drawing 1-1. In total this averages out to qualifying 75% of the time when the first leg results in a 0-0 draw and in 75% of ties when the first leg is a score draw. This kind of insight can definitely help you when assessing second leg matches.

Champions League second leg predictions: Other factors to consider

First leg result and qualification percentage

First Leg Result

Number of Matches

Home Team Qualifies

Away Team Qualifies

Home Team Qualifies %

Away Team Qualifies %

Home Win

86

56

30

65.1%

34.9%

Draw

56

14

42

25.0%

75.0%

Away Win

54

1

53

1.9%

98.1%

 

First leg result and qualification percentage

Result

Number of Matches

Winner Qualifies

Loser Qualifies

Winner Qualifies %

Loser Qualifies %

First Leg Win

140

109

31

77.9%

22.1%

As with any betting system, this one is not without its flaws. The sample size of matches from 14 years of Champions League knockout ties is essentially the same as just one Premier League season, and so much can happen to a club from one year to the next.

The most likely significant change is a new manager, but there is always a turnover of players, and many clubs have moved or expanded their stadiums in recent years.

However, history shows there are not too many exceptions to the simple rules outlined here, and so this information might prove invaluable when selecting your Champions League second leg bets.

Inform your bets by reading more Champions League betting advice here.

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