Jack: Just how hard is it to win when down 1-0?

Kristian Jack
10/9/2013 6:19:05 PM
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Back in 1994, in the first leg of the European Cup Winners' Cup semifinal in Paris, the Pet Shop Boys version of 'Go West' played out over the speakers at the Parc des Princes.

It was a popular beat amongst the PSG fans, who sung 'Allez, Paris Saint Germain' during the chorus, which prompted the visiting Arsenal fans to respond 'One Nil, to the Arse-a-nal' reminding them of the score after 45 minutes. The lead didn't last long so the chant ended that night in Paris, but when Arsenal won the second leg and the final by 1-0 scorelines, an anthem was born amongst Arsenal fans.

Arsenal, under manager George Graham, were known for keeping his team very defensive and 'One Nil, to the Arse-a-nal' was a message to visiting players and fans that there was a very good chance the game was over.

The song continues to be sung every now and then at The Emirates but with the likes of Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Nigel Winterburn all on television talking about the game, rather than playing it, Arsenal have allowed 1-0 leads to slip much more than they did two decades ago.

A 1-0 lead, however, still remains close to an advantage globally as it was when Ian Wright was scoring goals for Arsenal.

Football managers talk about the edge their team can get when they score the opening goal of a game. Not only does it give the side confidence, while affecting their opponents mentally, but, the longer the game goes on, it allows a team to sit deeper to protect a lead and play a counter-attacking style.

Getting the opening goal in a game is similar to capturing your opponent's queen in chess; the first one to do it wins a lot more often, and the earlier you get it, the easier it is to dictate your own style.

Last season in the Premier League there were 33 matches that ended scoreless, and, subsequently, 347 occasions when a team took a 1-0 lead. The minute in which the goals were scored matters, of course, but of those 347 1-0 leads, only 54 times did those leads give the winning team no points. This means a team who took a 1-0 lead, had a 84.4 per cent chance of not losing the match, while the trailing team had just over a 15 per cent chance of winning the game.

15 per cent. It is no wonder many teams naturally try and defend what they have when they are winning 1-0, but what of those teams trailing? Just how hard is their task and how important is it to play at your best when you are trailing?

Winning a match in 90 minutes after going down 1-0 has always been difficult. Major finals are obviously tighter and cagier than league games, but it is worth noting that no team has won a World Cup final that way since West Germany beat the Netherlands in 1974. From 1974 to now, no team has done it in 10 European Championship finals or 12 Copa America finals. In the last 40 European Cup/Champions League finals, from 1974-2013, it has happened just three times. The last victims? Ironically, Arsenal in Paris in 2006. The victors that day were Barcelona whose performance significantly improved after they equalized, leading them to score the game's defining third goal soon after.

That is what happened to Manchester United on Saturday at Sunderland. Down 1-0 early, United found themselves trailing in a league match for the fourth time in their last five games. The previous three had all led to defeats, something no one was used to. Those defeats to Liverpool, Manchester City and West Brom, meant United had achieved 0 points from losing positions, despite spending 186 minutes playing behind - remarkable numbers for a successful club used to winning games from losing positions.

United gave up 1-0 leads in five of their first six league games last season, under Sir Alex Ferguson, yet still won three of them. Through six games they had trailed in a total of 140 minutes but gained nine points.

They went on to trail in 16 matches last season, and for a total of 419 minutes, but won back a startling 29 points from losing positions (nine wins, two draws), which was the second most in Premier League history, behind the 31 won by Newcastle United in 2001-02.

When Adnan Januzaj scored his and United's second goal at Sunderland, not only was this significant in terms of helping the club win a match, but, as it came just six minutes after his first, gave United a look of old, something we hadn't seen so far this season. Last year they scored 17 league goals ten minutes or less after they had just scored, which played a large role in their ability to be the comeback kings of the Premier League.

Not one time last season did United, trailing 1-0, draw level and then lose the match, something they did against West Brom this season. Even more impressive, when they did draw level at 1-1, they didn't even draw until April, winning these matches nine times in a row from August to March.

Their nine wins from 1-0 deficits contributed to 16.6 per cent of the entire league's wins in that category and they did it from 16 attempts, for a remarkable 56 per cent win rate, when the league average was slightly more than 15 per cent.

A look at the rest of the teams in the top seven and how they struggled to win a game when down 1-0 shows just how impressive United's comebacks were.

Manchester United – 9 wins from 16 attempts (56 per cent)
Chelsea - 4 wins from 10 attempts (40 per cent)
Tottenham - 5 wins from 13 attempts (38 per cent)
Everton - 5 wins from 16 attempts (31 per cent)
Arsenal - 4 wins from 14 attempts (29 per cent)
Manchester City - 3 wins from 11 attempts (27 per cent)
Liverpool - 2 wins from 14 attempts (14 per cent)

Another example of Liverpool's improvement in the second half, saw both their wins come in the last two months of the season while, highlighting their regression, all of Manchester City's came before the end of November. United's 29 points gained from 1-0 deficits was the major reason for them defeating their closest rivals so easily. City, like United, lost five games when trailing 1-0, but all five of them came in their last five attempts, after they picked up 12 points (three wins, three draws) from their first six 0-1 deficits.

This season, United will certainly hope not to trail in as many games as 16 (although this number certainly highlights some flaws with that title-winning team David Moyes took over) but it is likely they will come close to that and it is at that time – more than any - when they must look like a Ferguson team.

No Premier League team can go through a season never falling behind 1-0. Even Arsenal's Invincibles of 2003-04 did so nine times, winning six and drawing three.

Januzaj's double certainly is a good start for United in this area and, ironically, came on the same day as rivals Manchester City's first win from losing 1-0, after they won 3-1 at home to Everton.

The season is still young but early indications, through 70 Premier League games, is that it is even harder to win such matches with just eight teams, having fallen behind 1-0, winning (11.8 per cent).

'It's a sin' if managers don't say these 'opportunities' are 'always on my mind' if they want to perform 'miracles' and become a 'winner'.

Just ask the Pet Shop Boys.

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