The Luck Index

April 1, 2019

“These decisions even themselves out over a season”

It’s a cliché phrase used by managers and pundits alike in regards to bad decisions, luck and misfortune. But do they really? Do the big six get favourable decisions?

Do mistakes even out over a period of time? Do you make your own luck and are teams more ‘unlucky’ away from home?

The ESPN Luck Index is a comprehensive research project commissioned by ESPN in partnership with Intel, carried out by the University of Bath, to examine how the Premier League would look if luck were not a factor.

Luck Index explainer: +1 = Very Lucky, 0 = Luck is level, -1 = Very Unlucky


Jurgen Klopp’s side produced some of the most eye-catching football in the 2017-18 season but the ESPN Luck Index showed that they were also the most unfortunate team in the top flight. Liverpool should have been 12 points better off than their final league total of 75 points: with 14 incidents reviewed, our analysis shows that adjustments would have put them second place overall instead of fourth.

The key game may have been their 2-2 draw with Tottenham on Feb. 4: taking all three points instead of settling for a dramatic point would have helped them keep pace in the race for second.


“When people succeed, it is because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success”

– Diego Maradona


Jose Mourinho’s team was the most fortunate one in The Premier League though you wouldn’t know it from watching his dour post-match news conferences. But after reviewing 16 incidents throughout the campaign, Man United should have had six fewer points than they did, leading to a fourth-place finish instead of second.

They were deemed lucky to beat Swansea on Aug. 19, to grab a point at Liverpool on Oct. 14 and defeat Brighton on Nov. 25. Will they get the same breaks this season?

“To win the Champions League you need courage, personality, experience and luck.”

– Carlo Ancelotti


Of course, luck doesn’t just impact those at the top end of the table fighting for places in Europe. Stoke City’s bad fortune – they should have had four more points and four more goals than they ultimately did – meant that they were relegated instead of preparing for an 11th straight season in the Premier League. An adjusted total of 37 points would have seen them pip Huddersfield to safety on goal difference.

Picking up points against Crystal Palace on May 5 (a 2-1 defeat should have been a 1-1 draw) and Leicester (they should have won 1-0 but had to settle for a 1-1 draw) would have done it.

“In football there is no luck, there is a lot of work and effort in every game”

– Zinedine Zidane

Brighton miss out on millions:

Chris Hughton and the Seagulls had an impressive maiden season in the Premier League, getting as high as ninth by the end of November. A late run of form ensured they finished comfortably in 15th place but the Luck Index showed that they should have had six more points, good enough to vault up to ninth place.

It might not seem too significant but the jump would have given them nearly 12m pounds in extra prize money, a handy cash injection to help bolster the squad ahead of the new season.


“I always believed in my ability, but I think in any sport you need that little bit of luck”

– Gareth Bale

Arsenal’s away woes:

The Gunners’ road woes were a source of continued amusement in 2017-18: Arsenal lost seven of their eight away games after Jan. 1 in the Premier League, a failure that resulted in them finishing outside the top four for the second time in two decades.

The Luck Index shows that while they would have lost three points at home, they would have gained 11 on the road all season long for a net increase of eight points. It wouldn’t have been enough to finish in the top four, but it would have been a much closer proposition.


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