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17/4/2009 No.25
rendspotting Football/Rugby
Kevin Pullein
Friday 17 Apr 2009
  When the best teams play each other, the first goal is less important than usual

Four of the Premier League's current top six will be doing battle at Wembley this weekend – but if you are betting in-play during the FA Cup semi-finals, remember that when the best teams play each other the first goal can be less decisive than it is on other occasions.

Top teams can become involved in topsy-turvy games. The lead was gained and lost three times during Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final second leg at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Liverpool, and in the first leg Guus Hiddink's side had come from a goal down to win at Anfield. In the Premier League, Arsenal have come back to beat Chelsea after going behind while Liverpool have come from behind twice to beat Manchester United.

How important is the first goal in domestic matches? Figures from Premier League games during the past 10 seasons in which at least one goal was scored show that in 69% of those matches the team who scored first won. And in 89%, the team who scored first did not lose.

The average difference in league positions between teams in Premier League games is seven. In both of this weekend's FA Cup semi-finals the gap will be smaller. So how important was the first goal in games between the Premier League's top six? Only 64% of the time did the team who scored first win, and only 86% of the time did the team who scored first avoid defeat.

The difference in ability between the teams was comparatively small, meaning that if one of them did fall behind they were more likely to be able to draw level or get in front – even though those contests tended to be lower-scoring than most Premier League games, meaning that there was less likely to be a second or third goal.

And, just out of curiosity, what happened when the difference in ability between teams was very large – say, 14 Premier League places or more? For 76% of the time, the team who scored first won, and 91% of the time they did not lose.
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