How many times does a manager or a player claim “a draw was a good result?” Whether this is justifying the result after the fact (i.e. if you’ve been 3-0 down a draw is certainly a good result), or whether the team went out to play for a draw, I decided to see how often a draw really was a good result given the pre-match predictions.
Who’s Happy With a Draw?
A draw is better than a loss and the one league point it brings is some comfort to fans, but more often it is two points lost rather than one point gained. Consider a match between evenly matched sides. In that case the home team has about a 50% chance of victory, and the away team about a 25% chance.
Who’s happy with a draw? The away team expects three points 25% of the time, and one point 25% of the time. So on average the away team should expect one point from the match: A draw meets expectations for the away team.
The home team, however, would expect 1.75 points on average from that match. If it ends in a draw they’re 0.75 points below expectations.
That simple example suggests that a draw is only a good result for weaker sides away from home, and if you’re at home you have to be much weaker than your opponent to be happy with a draw.
When is a Draw a Good Result in the Premier League?
I used Decision Technology‘s team strength model to generate expected points, home and away, for all 380 matches. I’ve highlighted the matches where a draw is good – that is, where the expected return is less than one point.
The results show that, at home, a draw is always a bad result for the top seven Premier League teams. Even for QPR and Wigan a home draw is bad news against opposition weaker than Everton. Overall, out of the 380 matches played per season, only in 49 (13%) would a draw be favourable for the home team.
Away from home things are a bit different, with a draw being a better-than-expected result in 159 out of 380 matches (42%). Even so, you have to be worse than your opposition to like the idea of an away draw: Norwich (ranked 17th) should only be happy with an away draw against Bolton (ranked 13th) or better.
The away chart shows that it’s in most teams’ interests to draw against the big clubs. That might explain why managers of lesser clubs are so defensive – it’s usually a profitable strategy. The answer for the big teams is to really go for the win.
There is an argument that, in the risk-averse game of football, managers do not do enough to force a win. They can always claim “at least we won a point”, when the reality is that they should usually expect more than a point. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments.