How to predict draws in soccer

Unlike higher scoring sports, such as rugby and American football, a soccer match has a significant chance of ending up as a draw. In this article, our soccer expert, Mark…

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Unlike higher scoring sports, such as rugby and American football, a soccer match has a significant chance of ending up as a draw. In this article, our soccer expert, Mark Taylor, shows how to predict which matches are more likely to end in a draw. Easier said than done? Read on to find out.

  • Calculating the chance of draws in the Premier League
  • How to predict which match will draw
  • Making soccer draw predictions

Roughly 24% of Premier League matches finished in a stalemate between the 2013/14 season and 2017/18 season. The most likely drawn score line was 1-1 (42% of all draws) followed by a goalless game (32%) and 2-2 (22%).

Therefore, draws comprise around a quarter of the outcomes in a Premier League game over a season and are also an important component of bets made in the handicap betting markets.

Intuitively, a draw is more likely between two sides of relatively equal ability, once the venue has been factored into the calculation.

A title contender hosting a struggling team will usually see the implied probability of a stalemate quoted at around 14%, whereas two mid-table teams in opposition will see the probabilities rise to around 30%.

This can be confirmed by applying the widely used Poisson Distribution to two nominally chosen equal sides.

Although a pure Poisson approach slightly underestimates the likelihood of a draw occurring in football, requiring an adjustment, the methodology is relatively straightforward.

Calculating the chance of draws in the Premier League

Consider a Premier League game where an average of 2.5 total goals is expected to be scored between two equally matched teams. In this scenario, each will score an average of 1.25 goals per game against each other.

The Poisson Distribution estimates that both teams have a 29% chance of failing to score, hence the unadjusted probability that the game ends in a 0-0 stalemate is found by multiplying these two probabilities together.

0.29 * 0.29 = 0.08

A 1-1 draw, in keeping with actual data from the Premier League, has a greater chance of occurring – nearly a 13% chance.

Once these figures are calculated for all possible drawn score lines, the probabilities for a 0-0, 1-1, 2-2 and so on can be added together to get the overall chance of a draw for a typical Premier League game between two evenly matched sides.

In this example and without any correction to account for the small deviation of a Poisson from reality, a draw is predicted to have occurred around 27% of the time.

If the propensity of equally matched sides to play out a stalemate is easily appreciated, the likely scoring profiles of each side is often a neglected aspect of predicting draws.

Fewer predicted total goals in a match inevitably leads to an increased likelihood that each team will have lower individual scores.

The probability that a side will fail to score in a less goal laden environment, where the total expected goals in an evenly contested match is just 2.2, increases from 0.29 in the previous case to over 0.33.

This, in turn, increases the possibility of the game ending 0-0 from 0.08 to 0.11 and the cumulative unadjusted draw probability rises to over 0.29.

So selecting matches that are more likely to end in draws inevitably leads us towards teams of similar quality and who may have displayed a tendency to be good defensively, while lacking an attacking cutting edge.

Making soccer draw predictions

However, being able to identify such draw prospects is no guarantee that this heightened likelihood of a stalemate has not been appropriately factored into the price available.

It is also important to be aware that a team which exhibits extremes of performance, even over the course of a season, may become less extreme in the future.

A side may appear to be a draw specialist, partly by participating in low scoring matches, but the persistence of this trait may be overestimated and future draws may appear to have value where none actually exists.

The Premier League teams who were involved in the most draws over a season between 2006 and 2016 were typical mid-table teams, such as Stoke, West Brom and Aston Villa.

As a group, they averaged nearly 16 draws a season compared to the league average over that period of just below 10.

In the following season, however, the number of draws produced by these potential draw specialists fell from 16 to just over 10, very close to the league average.

A similar fate befell the largely successful sides, such as Manchester City and United, Tottenham and Chelsea who appeared to shun draws as a final game outcome.

From drawing an average of fewer than five games each per season in one campaign, they too regressed the following season and averaged eight draws between themselves, closer to the league average of 10 draws.

It is essential to understand the factors which may contribute towards drawn matches in football, although as ever regression towards a less extreme mean should always be considered and as the climax to the season approaches it is also worth factoring in occasions where a draw is mutually beneficial to both teams, particularly in Italy’s top flight league.

Which Soccer league has the most draws?

League Average draw %
Ligue 1 25.80%
Serie A 24.80%
Bundesliga 24.40%
Premier League 24.20%
La Liga 23.40%
Champions League 23.20%
Average 23.40%

The big five European soccer leagues and the Champions League have a relatively similar percentage of matches ending in draws with none diverging too far from the 24.30% average across the leagues.

As a result bettors should be wary of placing too much emphasis on the league the match takes place in and instead focus on the individual teams in the matchup.

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