An alien concept in some sports, the draw outcome in football is one of the game’s many distinguishing factors. In fact, the first-ever international football match, between England and Scotland in 1872, ended in a 0-0 draw. Some of the most famous games in history have produced this outcome, leading to league title successes, golden goal wins and penalty shootout drama.
But in European football, just how common is a draw, and in which fixtures would you be more likely to find them? Here is our attempt to answer that question, by looking at the significance of draws, and how the frequency of such an outcome changes depending upon which league and era you are in.
The Origin And Significance Of The Draw In Football
As has already been mentioned, football games that are tied after 90 minutes are almost always considered a draw in the modern league format. It is only in a cup or knockout competitions where such outcomes won’t be sufficient, and where either extra time periods or penalty shootouts can then be utilized.
The obvious exception to this is the FA Cup, where historically at least, matches that ended in a draw were replayed in the days or weeks that followed. Until the 1990s, even the final itself could be replayed to determine a winner – as was the case in the famous 1981 final between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
Post-war FA Cup Finals that have gone to a Replay
- 1970 – Chelsea 2 Leeds United 1
- 1981 – Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester City 2
- 1982 – Tottenham Hotspur 1 Queens Park Rangers 0
- 1983 – Manchester United 4 Brighton and Hove Albion 0
- 1990 – Manchester United 1 Crystal Palace 0
- 1993 – Arsenal 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1
The value of a draw has also changed over time in English football. This is because of how points were previously allocated in the old English First Division, compared to how they are now. Up until 1981, the winner of a First Division match would only get two points, with a draw still earning a solitary point.
As you might expect, this incentivised teams, players and managers to settle for draws more frequently. This rule was subsequently changed to the more familiar ‘three points for a win’ model that we see today – which was intended to encourage teams to attack more and go for the win.
A Seminal Change In English Football?
The opening day of the 1981-82 season produced some surprising results. Arsenal were beaten 1-0 at home by Stoke, Notts County won 1-0 at Villa, and a highly fancied Manchester United side was beaten 2-1 by Coventry. A total of 34 goals were scored, with there being just two draws and not a single goalless game.
English football’s defining move to three points for a win was eventually followed by the other major leagues across Europe. In 1988-89, France adopted the format and six years later, Italy followed suit. Then, in 1995-96, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal all changed their points system.
The change has also created its own champions in the English game. Blackburn in 1995 and Manchester City in 2019 would not have been crowned title winners in a two-point league. Moreover, if the ‘three for a win’ system had been introduced earlier in history, Ipswich Town would have won the 1974-75 championship instead of Derby County.
Teams Drawn The Most In The Premier League Era
The three points for a win system has been in place since the very inception of the Premier League back in 1992. Since then, one team has drawn more league games than any other – Everton. Overall, the Toffees have drawn 319 of their 1,146 Premier League matches (as of 29/04/2022). The team with the second most draws is Aston Villa, who have drawn 294 of their 1032 matches to date.
Premier League Fixtures With The Most Draws
In the 30-year history of the Premier League, only six clubs have been ever-presents: Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester United and Everton. Having played each other almost 60 times in just under 30 years, the two fixtures that have jointly produced the most draws in Premier League history are Liverpool v Everton, and Chelsea v Manchester United. Both fixtures have produced draws 24 times since the inception of the EPL – and there is one main reason why that may be the case.
Firstly, Liverpool and Everton are cross-city rivals, with many of their clashes being ill-tempered, feisty affairs. While Liverpool has generally had the better of their meetings (winning 26 games to Everton’s 10 in the Premier League) the derby atmosphere can level the playing field somewhat – closing a potentially sizable talent gap.
By contrast, Chelsea vs Manchester United has morphed into one of the biggest games in English football since 2005, with both clubs frequently challenging for the Premier League title during that time. With so much on the line in their more recent meetings, one could argue that a draw was often the most convenient outcome for both sides – wishing to avoid defeat at all costs against their biggest domestic rival.
Are We Seeing Fewer Draws Today?
One of the more fascinating aspects of the English First Division change to three points for a win was that it didn’t exactly have the desired impact initially. In the two seasons prior to the 1981 rule change, the First Division winners (Liverpool and Aston Villa) didn’t exceed more than 10 draws. Fast forward to the 1983/84 season, Liverpool drew a remarkable 14 games en route to winning the league title, with fourth-placed Manchester United registering the same amount.
In the modern era, it’s fair to say that top sides tend to treat draws like defeats. However, this is more to do with the high standards that have been set in recent times, with Manchester City and Liverpool both regularly surpassing the 95 point mark in a 38 game Premier League season. These two outliers aside, the 2020/21 season shows that little has changed in terms of the frequency of draws, as Chelsea and Manchester United both finished in the top four that season by earning 10 or more draws in total.
Since the 2015/16 Premier League season, the number of draws in a single campaign has fluctuated significantly. It hit a low of 71 in 2018/19, meaning that just 18.68 per cent of matches ended in a draw, a figure that ballooned to 92 the following year. See the table below for details.
|Season||Premier League games drawn||Championship games drawn|
|2015/16||107 (28.16%)||172 (31.16%)|
|2016/17||84 (22.11%)||130 (23.55%|
|2017/18||99 (26.05)||148 (26.81%)|
|2018/19||71 (18.68%)||162 (29.35%)|
|2019/20||92 (24.21%||149 (26.99%)|
|Total (five seasons)||453 (23.84%)||761 (27.57%)|
A History Of 0-0 Draws In Football
A 0-0 draw is normally the only outcome of a football match that leaves every fan disappointed. After all, football is a means of entertainment for billions of people around the world; so for a game to end goalless after 90 turgid minutes will invariably leave some people feeling short-changed. Thankfully, 0-0 draws aren’t all too common, especially in English football.
For instance, only one World Cup Final has ever finished goalless -1994. With Brazil and Italy inseparable after 120 minutes, a dreaded penalty shootout would decide the fate of both teams. It was here where the legendary Roberto Baggio would tragically fire his spot-kick over the bar to hand the Jules Rimet trophy to the South Americans for a record fourth time.
It’s a much more regular occurrence in the European Cup/Champions League Final, however, where nerves and a reluctance to overcommit often leads to tense matches. There were two goalless finals in the famously attritional era of the late 1980s, with Steaua Bucuresti and PSV winning the competition via penalties in 1986 and 1988.
In 2003, AC Milan and Juventus met in the final of the Champions League at Old Trafford, only to produce a typically Italian 0-0 scoreline after 120 minutes. Once again, the game went to a penalty shootout, from which Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan would emerge as the victors. Since then, no Champions League Final has ended goalless, but does that offer a clue as to the standard of defending in the modern game?
Which Type Of Game Tends To Produce 0-0 Draws?
The injection of money into the modern game may have inadvertently increased the likelihood of 0-0 draws in football. With the financial gap between the world’s richest football clubs and the rest widening dramatically, we have seen more and more managers adopting ultra-defensive tactical approaches. It isn’t uncommon to see clubs in the bottom half of the Premier League “park the bus” – to steal a famous Jose Mourinho phrase – at the Etihad or Anfield, with the ambition to simply frustrate the home side and maybe sneak a goal on the counter.
Clubs like Liverpool and Manchester City generally do find a way past such stubborn defences more often than not. Nonetheless, if you are going to see a 0-0 result, it very often will come from one side choosing to sit in and soak up pressure against a technically superior opponent. It isn’t simply the case that sides will play conservatively against the elite either. For instance, in the 2021/22 season, Burnley has earned five 0-0 draws so far, while Norwich has registered four. Of these, only one was against a ‘big six’ club in Arsenal.
While both sides are struggling at the foot of the Premier League table, it shows how 0-0 draws tend to come when both clubs lack sharpness and incision in the final third. This is most certainly true of Norwich and Burnley this season, who are (at the time of writing) the two lowest-scoring clubs in the top-flight.
It was very much a similar story last season, where a Manchester United side without the firepower of Cristiano Ronaldo, had more 0-0 results to their name than any other team.
Overall, around seven per cent of games in the big five European leagues end 0-0 – a figure that generally holds true across the world. It goes to show that, regardless of how far the game has evolved over the past 150 years, the humbling goalless draw is very much here to stay.
Goalless draws in the 2020/21 season across the big five European league
|Nation||League||Games||0-0s||% Of 0-0s|
As we’ve shown, the nature of the draw in football has evolved significantly since England and Scotland met for the very first time back in 1872. And yet, in an increasingly Americanised world, where it is desirable for every sporting contest to have a dramatic conclusion of some sort, the fact that it has remained an integral feature of the beautiful game should not be overlooked. Draws, rather fittingly, have the capacity to bore and enthral almost in equal measure. This is especially true for fans of some clubs, namely Everton, who are far more accustomed to seeing draws than fans of other sides.
And yet, the cruellest irony of all is that Everton’s lack of draws could cost them their place in the Premier League next year. Having played in the top-flight of English football since 1954, relegation to The Championship would be an unmitigated disaster for the club as a whole. This season, Frank Lampard’s side has drawn just five matches, while fellow strugglers Burnley (who are just above them in the PL table) have 13. As much as the draw may be mocked and derided as an unsatisfactory result, Burnley’s ability to pick up points throughout the season could condemn the masters of the draw to their first relegation in almost 70 years. It’s a strange old game sometimes.