Statistician’s Journal, Binary Issue: Can Number of 1-0 wins decide Premier League Title?


“It is better to win ten times 1-0 than to win once 10-0.” – Vahid Halilhodžic

The Yugoslav legend, who was the manager of Algeria in the FIFA World Cup 2014, believed in the hard disciplined way of getting the result like many of his peers. After two years, thousands of miles away from Brazil, one of Vahid’s Fennec Foxes has been the pivot of the exact same philosophy and thus, emerged as the white knight in Claudio Ranieri’s fairytale.

Yes, we are referring to Riyad Mahrez’s Leicester City, not only Mahrez’s Leicester, we have Vardy, Drinkwater, Kante, Fuchs and who not! A bunch of average or more than average players producing a team-game of highest quality – that has been the Foxes’ USP this season.

Notably, the current Premier League leaders clinched seven 1-0 wins in the process, out of which four are at home and three are on trips. There’s something special about a 1-0 win. It’s like you are standing on the cliff of an edge but you have the guts to prevent the fall. You are secure in one second but after another, you are not. A moment’s lapse or a slightest hole in your defense will land you in all sorts of troubles.

An inquisitive mind will ask if these special wins are at all special in deciding Premier League title. And, the statistics always comes to our rescue to answer all these questions.

Over the years, the team with highest number of 1-0 wins clinched the Premier League title only on 7 occasions out of 23 (30.4%). The first side to achieve that was Manchester United in 1995-96 beating Kevin Keegan’s high-flying Newcastle United. Chelsea, in the last season, is the recent example of the phenomenon.

Only a one-third proportion! It may sound unconvincing for you to believe in 1-0 wins but a simple count over the past years is not representing the whole picture. Firstly, we have to break it in home wins and away wins. From the appearance of it, a 1-0 away win seems pretty precious. A clean sheet and three points from a trip is golden in crunching moments of the league.

Secondly, we need to consider the matches from 1995-96 as it is the first time from when Premier League is played with 20 teams. Our points of interest will be seven clubs who didn’t miss any edition of English top flight since 1995-96 – Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham.

Total 1-0 wins by teams in Premier League since 95-96.
Total 1-0 wins by teams in Premier League since 95-96.

Over these twenty seasons, Chelsea top the number of 1-0 wins with Manchester United and Arsenal being second and third respectively. Liverpool are just sitting above bottom placed Aston Villa, probably explaining the reason behind their barren run in EPL since its inception.

If we break it by home wins, Chelsea are still the highest. Be it home or away, Chelsea loved to win ugly under Jose Mourinho. A defensively strong performance accompanied by a single counter-attacking goal fits perfectly in this frame of play. On the other hand, Manchester United dominated the league through most of the period and that dominance resulted in big home wins for the Red Devils often. That’s why the number of home wins for United has been quite low.

Home 1-0 wins by teams in Premier League since 95-96.
Home 1-0 wins by teams in Premier League since 95-96.

When we analyse away wins, we have the same top three as we had in the aggregate – Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. That indicates the importance of just scraping past your opponent in a difficult away trip. You can dominate and win big at home but an ugly 1-0 win might be the best result you can expect when you are on travel.

Away 1-0 wins by teams in Premier League since 95-96.
Away 1-0 wins by teams in Premier League since 95-96.

Not so surprisingly, Chelsea (4), Manchester United (13) and Arsenal (3) are also the top three teams in terms of Premier League titles. Liverpool, the other one in the so-called ‘Big Four’ of English football, have won none and they are also lagging significantly behind their rivals in terms of the number of 1-0 wins, or specifically 1-0 away wins.

Now, Leicester has topped this season’s 1-0 win tally until now. They are one way from matching 1995-96 champions Manchester United’s tally of 8 wins by 1-0. In the history of Premier League, the team who have registered more than seven 1-0 wins have not won the title only two times. The first one was during Arsenal’s invincibles 2003-04 season and the second one was in 2005-06 when Chelsea won but third-placed Liverpool recorded 10 wins by 1-0.

There’s a big difference of two points between a 0-0 draw and a 1-0 win. These two points are priceless during those days when everything is not going your way but somehow you manage to take the spoils. Those moments will win you the league, not the big comfortable wins.

Our stats prove that if you get more 1-0 wins, you will do good in the Premier League historically. That’s why this series of five 1-0 wins will prove to be the most vital in the Foxes’ title surge this season and in this context, we want to draw the line quoting Sir Alex Ferguson, a certain person who have won the League ten times more than anyone else –

“How many times have I said to you about 1-0? What does it mean? It means championship form. I don’t mind the 1-0s, I really don’t because it tells you we are determined, we’re going to defend, do the right things and play as a team.”


Photo by apasciuto