Former Inter Milan manager Annibale Frossi once mused that “the perfect result to a football game is 0-0”. Indeed, if every player performs their role perfectly, no goals should be scored at all, and parity would be maintained until the final whistle. The first-ever international match between England and Scotland was even 0-0 at a time when the game was still very much finding its feet.
As we know, in the years since, football has changed profoundly. Thankfully, from a viewer’s perfective, 0-0 results are rare, and even when they do occur, we as fans normally get some goalmouth entertainment. While a goalless draw is far from the most common scoreline across all of football, the task of finding out which one is requires extensive research. Given that most games average shy of three goals, one might assume that a 2-1 scoreline is the one we see most frequently throughout a tournament or a league season. And yet, is this really the case?
By compiling data from numerous leagues and international competitions from around the globe, we will attempt to finally answer the question: which scorelines are most common in the beautiful game?
Football Is A Low Scoring Sport
Football, unlike so many other sports, is low scoring. Compared to fans of rugby and cricket, or even popular US sports, football fans have to remain patient if they want to see that ever-elusive goal. While some viewers might view this as a negative, the relatively low number of goals we see in football is arguably part of its charm, in that you come to value a genuinely stunning strike so much more.
It is, after all, the anticipation of a goal that makes it all the sweeter. What’s interesting to note about football is that goals have always been at a premium, ever since the modern game laws were first codified in the 1860s. Observing FA Cup Finals as a case study, we see how often games were won by a goal (or two) to nil in the 1800s. The first ever FA Cup Final, in March 1872, ended with a 1-0 win for Wanderers, who beat the Royal Engineers at Kennington Oval.
The following two finals ended with 2-0 scorelines, showing that the game mirrors what we see today in so many ways. It’s undoubtedly true that looser rules around defending and time-wasting made scoring that much harder for forwards, but it nonetheless shows that low-scoring finals aren’t a modern phenomenon. Between 1871 and 1900, the joint-most common scoreline in the FA Cup final was 1-0 and 2-0 (six of each), underlining how little has changed in terms of the average number of goals scored per game.
This becomes even more apparent when looking at the most recent FA Cup Finals – and the scores produced in those. Between 1993 and 2022, the most common scoreline was – once again – 1-0, with 2-1 being the second most common this time. Out of the 29 finals that took place, 11 ended with a 1-0 scoreline, including three in the last decade alone.
Common Scorelines In English Football
The Premier League brands itself as the most exciting league in world football, with goals being central to its entertainment value. However, are fans really getting as many goals as we think they are? To find out the most common scoreline throughout the history of the EPL, we must venture all the way back to 1992.
Hardly in keeping with the ‘most exciting league’ label, a 2017 study analysing all 9,746 matches that took place between 1992 and August of that year found that 1-0 was the most frequent scoreline. According to sports-view.co.uk, 18% (1,782 games) ended 1-0, with 2-1 being the second most common at 16%.
Common EPL/Championship Scorelines: 2015/16 – 2019/20
|Score||Frequency||% of Games||Frequency||% of Games||Frequency||% of Games|
However, has that changed in the years since 2017? In short, not really. Between the 2015/16 and 2019/20 Premier League seasons, exactly 16.10% of all matches ended with a 1-0 scoreline. Once again, 2-1 was a close second at 15.10%, while 1-1 and 2-0 were joint third at 10.78%. It’s a similar story in the second tier of English football – The Championship.
You might expect marginally more goals to be scored in the lower leagues, but the results are very similar to that of the Premier League, with 1-0 still being the most common outcome at 18.65% of all games between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Across these seasons, 306 Premier League matches and 515 Championship ties finished with a score of 1-0.
There is a curious drop in frequency when it comes to matches with over three goals. In Both the EPL and The Championship, less than 8% of matches end 3-0, while less than 1% end with a 3-3 scoreline. More than anything, this shows how competitive most games are in the top two divisions of English football.
A 1-0 win was the most common score on three out 5 Premier League seasons and four out 5 Championship seasons between 2015/16 and 2019/20. This was the correct score on 821 occasions across those five seasons, given that there were 4660 during that time, it means that roughly 1 match in every six or so finished 1-0.
As was mentioned above, 2-1 is the second most frequent scoreline. Moreover, this was the most popular scoreline of all in the 2015/16 Championship season and the 2019/20 Premier League season. Perhaps surprisingly, a 2-0 final score occurred more often than any other in the 2018/19 Premier League campaign.
How Does Europe Differ?
Curiously, the rest of the big five domestic leagues in Europe produce eerily similar numbers. In the Bundesliga last season, 1-0 was the most common final score by a considerable margin, as 20% of all matches (when factoring in home and away wins) ended this way. By contrast, Serie A was closer to the Premier League last season, in that 1-0 also was most common, with around 16% of all matches finishing this way.
Only some big five leagues mirror that of Serie A and the Bundesliga, however. In the case of La Liga, 1-0 is still – marginally – the most popular, as there were 48 games that ended 1-0 in 2021/22 compared to 47 1-1 draws. Ligue 1, meanwhile, produced the highest number of 1-1 results, at 14%.
The reason for the differences across the board are multivariate. For starters, each club will have a different tactical philosophy in terms of how much they are willing to risk in trying to score. Moreover, leagues where there is a bigger disparity between the best clubs and those at the foot of the table (such as Ligue 1) are more likely to produce a greater number of 1-0 results rather than 1-1s.
2021/22 stats across the big five European leagues (home and away 1-0 results are separated):
|League||Games per team||Most common scoreline||Second most common||Third most common|
|Premier League||38||1-1 (11%)||1-0 (10%)||0-1, 2-0 (7%)|
|La Liga||38||1-0 (13%)||1-1 (12%)||0-0 (11%)|
|Serie A||38||1-1 (13%)||1-2 (10%)||1-0 (9%)|
|Ligue 1||38||1-1 (14%)||2-0, 1-0 (8%)||0-1 (7.8%)|
|Bundesliga||34||1-1 (13%)||2-1 (9%)||1-0 (8%)|
Home Advantage And Scorelines
Home advantage and the degree to which it impacts games should also be factored in. For instance, during the COVID-hit seasons of 2019/20 and 2020/21, we saw home advantage shrink substantially – especially in the Premier League and the Bundesliga.
ESPN’s Stats and Information Group analysed 288 Premier League games pre-lockdown from the 2019-20 season and then the 317 matches since the restart (the remainder of 2019-20 and the 20-21 season so far). The resulting stats saw a drop in goals scored at home (from 1.5 to 1.4 pre- and post-lockdown) and an 18% increase in away goals after lockdown.
Away teams have also come away with better results: home wins have decreased by 2%, but away wins are 26% up from pre- to post-lockdown. Away team yellow cards have also reduced from an average of 1.9 per game to 1.5 per game in front of empty stands, even as fouls committed have stayed roughly the same.
“Home and away is different, not like it used to be,” Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said back in 2020. “It’s a different sensation now playing without the fans behind the goal at the Stretford End — they normally score a goal for us.” The same is said for other intimidating stands, like Liverpool’s Kop end or Crystal Palace’s Holmesdale Road Stand.
“The intimidation factor is taken away from the opposition,” Michael Caulfield, one of the UK’s leading sports psychologists, told ESPN. “To a degree, they are almost preseason-like friendlies with nobody there.”
Scorelines At International Tournaments
International tournaments are somewhat of an anomaly, especially with games being played in ‘neutral’ venues. The transition from round-robin to a straight knockout format is an additional variable that alters the nature of goals – and tactics will therefore be modified accordingly by head coaches.
All of these factors and more generally conspire to produce wholly different results to what we might see from domestic leagues – where specific scorelines can be far more (or less) significant than they might be at a one-off international tournament. If we look at every FIFA World Cup result, we can see that most matches finish 1-0 (not looking at home or away team). In total, 128 World Cup games resulted in 1-0 wins for one of the two sides playing. Another common result is 2-1, which occurred 101 times (as of Sept 2022).
The most common result in the European Championship (qualification games excluded) is also 1-0, which reflects how ubiquitous that scoreline is across all of football. The most common results in the competition following 1-0 are 2-1, 2-0, 1-1, 0-0 and 3-0. Between 1958 (the first ever edition) and 2021, 65 games ended with a 1-0 scoreline (to either the home or away side). Interestingly, 2-1 was the second most common, with 58 games ending in such a way. All in all that means that 19.4% of all European Championship matches ever played have finished 1-0.
Most Common Scores At The Euros Since 1958
How Might This Trend Evolve In The Future?
The game’s development is incredibly difficult to predict, especially considering the drastic technological changes that have taken place in recent decades. The mass adoption of VAR in just about every major football competition around the world has had a profound impact on how matches are officiated. One might even argue that they’ve impacted scorelines, too, as offsides that officials previously missed are now always spotted. Conversely, we also saw at the 2018 World Cup how VAR impacted the number of penalties awarded, as we saw more penalties than ever before in Russia four years ago.
To this end, it’s hard to predict how scorelines will evolve or whether 1-0 will remain the most common on average. Perhaps the game will follow the likes of cricket and F1 by altering some of the sport’s founding rules in an attempt to increase the entertainment value for fans at home artificially. Such an overhaul would likely be aimed at making matches high scoring, and in that sense, it would have a big impact on scorelines.
For the time being, however, football’s fundamental laws remain – broadly – the same as they ever did, with only a handful of new interpretations. It seems highly unlikely that the familiar scorelines of 1-0, 2-1 and 1-1 will be toppled as the most common anytime soon. While some might argue that the beautiful game lacks beautiful goals, perhaps scarcity is what makes us appreciate them all the more.