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Apr 3, 2018
Apr 3, 2018

Using the first goal of a tie to predict Champions League results

The importance of the first goal in a Champions League tie

How often do teams qualify after scoring first?

Other factors for bettors to consider

Using the first goal of a tie to predict Champions League results

As the Champions League progresses the two-legged ties become more evenly matched. How does the first goal of a tie affect the fixture? How often do teams qualify after scoring first? Read on for information useful for in-play Champions League betting.

In the previous article, we saw how there have been definite trends in terms of who has emerged triumphant from a Champions League knock-out tie depending on the result of the first leg. The article was written prior to the round of 16 in 2017/18, but six of the eight ties in that round saw the team get through who history suggested would when based on the scoreline from the first match.

In the Premier League, the team which scores the first goal goes on to win the match around 70% of the time.

It was fascinating to see the Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma tie unfold, as the first leg ended in a 2-1 home win for the side from Ukraine. As was noted in the last article, “it’s almost an even split of who goes on to qualify” when that is the score in the first leg, and Roma’s 1-0 win in the return game means it is now an exact even split.

Since 2003/04, ten teams who have won 2-1 at home in the first leg have gone through, and ten teams who lost 2-1 away from home in the first meeting have qualified. Eusebio Di Francesco’s side became only the second to get through on away goals (after Villarreal, who knocked out Internazionale via the same scoreline in 2006), but an away goal in the first leg isn’t as decisive in such ties as many people would assume.

In the 2017/18 round of 16, the main exception to the previous rules were Sevilla, who became only the 6th team in 21 ties to draw 0-0 at home in the first leg but still go through. One key factor to their success was that they scored the first goal of the match at Old Trafford, meaning Manchester United then needed to get two.

The focus of this article will be to see how often the team scoring first in the Champions League wins the match, and how often they qualify for the next round. As the 2017/18 competition has reached the last eight, our data set will be the 84 ties from 2003/04 onwards at the quarter-final and semi-final stages.

Fortunately for bettors, the information here is widely available online and easy to compile. As most of the relatively weaker teams who get through the group stage have been stripped out by this stage, are we unlikely to see unusual patterns in results?

The importance of the first goal in a Champions League tie

In the Premier League, the team which scores the first goal goes on to win the match around 70% of the time. This is a very useful piece of information to have at your disposal when betting in-play. Is there also a 70% ‘first goal wins’ rate in the Champions League?

Teams still win in the region of 70% of the time when scoring the first goal, and it doesn’t matter whether it is the first or second leg

It would be natural to assume normal rules would only apply in a first leg game. When the first goal is scored in the return match, there is already a scoreline from a completed game which is influencing the overall tie.

Even if the first match ends 0-0, the first goal in the second leg still carries different weight depending on whether the home team or away team scores it. As we saw in the previous round this year, Sevilla would have gladly taken a 1-1 draw once they had scored the first goal in Manchester. Winning the match didn’t matter to them as much once they had the edge on away goals.

It’s therefore interesting to see teams still win in the region of 70% of the time when scoring the first goal, and it doesn’t matter whether it is the first or second leg.

First Leg

First Leg

First Goal

Matches

Wins

Win %

Home

46

36

78.3%

Away

27

13

48.1%

Total

73

49

67.1%

Second Leg

Second Leg

First Goal

Matches

Wins

Win %

Home

53

43

81.1%

Away

25

12

48.0%

Total

78

55

70.5%

Total

Total

First Goal

Matches

Wins

Win %

Home

99

79

79.8%

Away

52

25

48.1%

Total

151

104

68.9%

In the Premier League since August 2011, 7.9% of matches have ended in a goalless draw, and the rate is 7.1% for Champions League quarter and semi-final second leg matches, so they are roughly equal.

However, it’s no surprise to see there are more goalless games in first legs, when teams are happier to keep the match tighter, with 13.1% of the games ending 0-0. This could be a handy nugget of information to be aware of when selecting a bet.

We can also look at how often the team who scores the first goal in the first leg progresses to the next round of the competition.

First goal by home/away leg

First goal by home/away leg

First Leg

Matches

Home Qualifies

%

Away Qualifies

%

First Goal Home

46

33

71.7%

13

28.3%

First Goal Away

27

4

14.8%

23

85.2%

0-0

11

3

27.3%

8

72.7%

Total qualifications

Total

Team

Matches

First Scorer Qualifies

%

First Conceder Qualifies

%

First Goal Scorer

73

56

76.7%

17

23.3%

At the business end of the Champions League, scoring first in the first leg sees a side through roughly three times out of four. The findings here aren’t too surprising though. If we know the team which scores the opening goal of a first leg wins that match 67% of the time, then of course that team will usually qualify, as they hold the aces in the second leg.

There have only been four examples of the away side opening the scoring in the first game and not progressing.

This is especially true when the away team dominates the first leg. In the 84 quarter and semi-final ties over the past 14 seasons, the away side has never scored first and won the first leg but not progressed next round.

Indeed, there have only been five examples of a home side scoring first and winning the opening match of the tie but not qualifying for the next stage. If an away side starts the first leg well, they almost always come out on top after 180 minutes.

As the previous table shows, there have only been four examples of the away side opening the scoring in the first game and not progressing. It hasn’t happened since 2010 either, which means there is currently a run of 13 quarter or semi-final ties where the away side has scored first and qualified.

The table also illustrates something else for bettors to consider: what happens after a 0-0 in the first leg? There have only been 11 examples, but the team who scores first in the second leg, be they the home or away side, has progressed eight times.

There are some famous clashes among the three examples of the first scorer not getting through too. In 2009, Chelsea led against Barcelona and had several penalty appeals turned down, before Andres Iniesta scored in the last minute to send the Catalans through on away goals.

Four years later, Malaga lead 2-1 at Dortmund in stoppage time before conceding two goals and exiting the competition. The least dramatic of the three examples was the 2014 semi-final, where Atletico Madrid came from behind to beat Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. Had it not been for some very late goals in two of the ties, then there would be just one case of a team scoring first after a goalless first leg and not progressing.

Other factors for bettors to consider

It will be fascinating to see if these trends are maintained in the 2017/18 quarter-finals. It’s important to remember the sample size is small for this data, so aberrations from the norm are entirely possible. When the standard of teams is this high, any side is capable of overcoming a setback in the form of conceding the first goal.

However, as much as that is the case, in the last 14 seasons there haven’t been too many exceptions to the simple rules explained here. History says whoever scores first out of Liverpool and Manchester City can be confident of being the English representative in the last four.

Inform your soccer bets by reading more of Pinnacle’s expert Champions League betting advice.

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