The Making of a 1-0 Win

… the first 3 game weeks in the English Premier League have led to 12 such results this season. That is twelve 1-0 results out of 30 matches…
The refereeÔÇÖs whistle brings an end to the mayhem on the pitch. One set of fans, in the stadium and worldwide heaves a sigh of relief. The other set of fans (and players) finally let their shoulders drop. One set of fans thanks their players and the heavens for the 3 points, the other set curses their luck and then ponders endlessly. That is how exhilarating a 1-0 score line in football can be.

Yes other results can be as enjoyable ÔÇô especially the hard fought 2-1 and 3-2 ones but we are looking at 1-0 especially as the first 3 game weeks in the English Premier League have led to 12 such results this season. That is twelve 1-0 results out of 30 matches ÔÇô a full 40%. Compare this to only two 1-0 results in the first 30 matches of Premier League last year.

This spate of 1-0 results this season is made even more interesting because in seven (3 for Liverpool, 2 for Tottenham, 1 each for Arsenal and Hull City) of those 12 matches, the victors lined up in the 4-2-3-1 formation ÔÇô which is designed to maintain possession, provide a continuous attacking threat, and still be sound in defense.

A 1-0 win clearly reflects grit and determination ÔÇô either of getting a 1-0 lead early and defending it till the end (Liverpool, Arsenal, and Hull) or of managing to get a second-half winner (Tottenham). The question is in a 4-2-3-1, which area of the pitch does the grit, determination and most importantly performance, come from, which allows a team to win with such a narrow margin.

Let us look at the WhoScored.com ratings for these seven matches:

Looking at the graphic, one thing becomes very clear. If the two defensive midfielders play well (above team avg rating), the chances of the opponents scoring an equalizer reduce considerably. This is borne out by two exceptional performances put in by the duo of Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva for Liverpool against Stoke City and against Manchester United. As per StatsZone, against Manchester United, Lucas was successful in all 5 tackles he attempted, all 6 interceptions he attempted, and 80% of the 45 passes he attempted. Similarly, against Stoke, Gerrard was successful in 90% of his 87 passes, 3 out of four tackles, and the lone interception that he attempted. The Tottenham pair of Etienne Capoue and Paulinho also had a great outing against Swansea.

Another feature in all the seven victories seems to be an above average and in some cases exceptional performance of the goalkeeper, which is quite intuitive. The better the goalkeeper performs, the higher is the chance of a clean sheet. While this is obvious, Simon MignoletÔÇÖs penalty save against Stoke and Allan McGregorÔÇÖs brilliant performance in a 10-man Hull City unit against Norwich underline this fact.

As expected, in most cases the defense also had a good game. In fact, the only time the average rating of the four defenders was below the average team rating was in LiverpoolÔÇÖs victory over Stoke. Even in that case, the rating would have been much higher if Daniel Agger would not have given away the penalty.

The surprising part is the relative lack of impact of the advanced midfielders in such situations. It seems that only when the lone forward performs below par, does this group become active and plays an important role. In the case of Hull vs. Norwich, Sagbo managed to get a red card in the 27th minute, after Robbie Brady had scored a penalty in the 22nd minute. To their credit the remaining attackers (AMs) kept up the pressure on HullÔÇÖs goal creating 4 chances after SagboÔÇÖs red card (from StatsZone). In Tottenham vs. Swansea, it was the excellent performances of Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli that led to the penalty that Soldado converted.

So in conclusion, when the grit, determination, and performance come from the goalkeeper, defenders, and DMs, it becomes easier for a team to defend a narrow lead. But on the other end, if the attackers keep up the pressure it might help a team to extend the lead, making the game much easier to watch for the fans.