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I can’t believe the ref gave that decision?

The league are biased against us. We could have won the title if not for so many bad calls.

If we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all!

Sound familiar? It’s the refrain of every single football fan at some time or other.

Oh, and you can forget that silly cliché that decisions even themselves out over the course of a season. We know that’s not the case. In fact, you can work it out for yourself by simply flipping a coin: the more times you flip, the less likely it is that you will get an equal number of heads and tails.

Likewise, on the pitch, every time there is an error it can be in your favour or against you. (Of course, football supporters usually only see the bad luck that goes against them — sort of the opposite of rose-tinted glasses. Goes for the managers, too.)

But how much does luck — good and bad — really play a part? To find out, we devised and created a study, along with our friends at the University of Bath, to find out the degree to which luck and refereeing decisions impacted the 2017-18 Premier League season. After the numbers were crunched (check out our page for more on the results, alternative table and methodology) the Luck Index was born, along with an alternative Premier League table.

The headline result? Manchester United were the most fortunate side, gaining six additional points, while Liverpool were the unluckiest: strip out the effects of luck and Jurgen Klopp’s crew would have had an extra 12 points, enough to finish second … and above arch-rival United. Arsenal, too, were somewhat hard done by as the Luck Index suggests they should have had an additional eight points.

Luck was also evident at the other end of the food chain. In real life, Huddersfield Town avoided relegation, finishing four points above the drop zone. Factor in the Luck Index and David Wagner’s men would have been relegated, albeit on goal difference, while Stoke City would have stayed up. Interestingly, it’s not so much a function of Huddersfield having been lucky as much as it is other sides (like Stoke) experiencing bad luck.

The ESPN Luck Index
- The Luck Index: The findings and methodology
- Man United luckiest, Liverpool unluckiest

How do you go about creating the Luck Index and quantifying something — luck — that can be like catching smoke with your bare hands? First step was to identify incidents that were impacted by luck. Many were down to refereeing errors. These included incorrectly awarded and disallowed goals (whether due to offside, or a foul in the build-up), penalties that should have been awarded but were not and red cards, both those that were incorrectly given and those that should have been given, but were not. A refereeing decision was deemed to be “an error” when at least two of the three trained coders who reviewed it agreed that it was incorrect.

(For further accuracy, former Premier League referee Peter Walton reviewed a sample of 20 incidents.)

Another category involved goals that were “scored outside the allotted time” — in other words, goals that arrive after the referee’s whistle should have blown at the end of the half. Finally, there were deflected goals: goal-bound shots that hit off an opponent and beat the keeper.
Of all the games revised by the Luck Index, Chelsea’s opening day defeat to Burnley sticks out given Gary Cahill’s early red card. Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images
Each time a team was deemed to be “unlucky” based on the above criteria, the Luck Index judged the likely impact of the incident on the final outcome of the game. To do this, we used a mathematical model that gives you the likeliest outcome based on a series of factors. These include the time of the incident, the type of incident, the relative strength of the team, whether it was home or away and so on. Once the data is inputted, about 100,000 simulations are run to ascertain the most common outcome.

Remember how Chelsea hosted Burnley on opening day last season and lost 3-2? According to the Luck Index, the home side were unlucky to have Gary Cahill sent off after 14 minutes and because the red card came early with the game tied at 0-0, it had an out-sized effect. If that incorrect decision were not made, Chelsea would have won 1-0; therefore, the Luck Index awarded three points to the home side.

Or take the Manchester derby in April. A victory for City would have mathematically given them the title. Instead, they dominated the first half, going two goals up but then suffered a 3-2 defeat as United, marshaled by a brilliant Paul Pogba, roared back. There were a number of contentious calls but the Luck Index noted only one that was clearly incorrect. That was after five minutes when Ashley Young handled David Silva’s cross as it was bound for Raheem Sterling. Referee Martin Atkinson waved play on (either he didn’t see it or he felt Young, who appeared to slip, had handled the ball unintentionally).

According to the Luck Index, it was a clear refereeing error: City should have been awarded a penalty. Fire up the Luck Index (and the usual 100,000 simulations, which would have also taken into account City’s penalty conversation rate) and the match should have finished 3-1 to City.

It’s pretty easy to know what Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho would have to say about that.

Of course, we expect some healthy debate around the Luck Index. For a start, you may take exception with, including goals scored “outside the allotted time.” We’ve all heard the jokes about “Fergie Time” but when a referee determines the number of minutes of time added on, it’s always a minimum. Incidents during the time added on (like an injury, a goal or a substitution) can mean the referee is entitled (in fact, obligated) to tack on extra minutes to those shown on the fourth officials board.

Including deflected goals is another one for debate. Again, we’ve all seen goals where the ball hits a defender’s backside and balloons over the keeper; we talk about what a stroke of bad luck that was. Quantifying the effects of deflections — could they have been saved? — is subjective.
And that’s the point. There’s simply no definitive way to measure luck, its impact or indeed forecast out events in a match thereafter. But these conversations — and the ESPN Luck Index — are the lifeblood of postmatch analysis among fans and pundits alike. This project takes us a step forward in understanding the impact of luck against the backdrop of VAR’s impending adoption across the sport, and how differently things might have turned out.

At its core, the Luck Index is a fascinating tool that taps into this, reinforcing the absurdity of the old trope “mistakes even themselves out in the long run.” If it’s 50/50 whether luck and bad calls go for you or against you, it’s highly unlikely that they will “even themselves out” over such a 38-game season in a sport with such fine margins for victory and defeat.

Luck is simply a part of football.
MANCHESTER, England — Paul Pogba is becoming unsettled at Manchester United after feeling manager Jose Mourinho unfairly criticised him this summer, sources told ESPN FC.

Pogba would consider either a move to Barcelona or a return to Juventus if given the option, the sources added, as the midfielder is unhappy with some of his manager’s comments made during the club’s tour of the United States.

In an interview with ESPN FC two weeks ago, Mourinho questioned why Pogba’s performances in Russia were so much better than his displays for United last season.

Despite Pogba’s feelings, however, United have no intention of selling the Frenchman, according to one source, just two years after splashing out a then-world-record fee to bring him back to Old Trafford from Juventus.

The ESPN Luck Index
- The Luck Index: The findings and methodology
- Man United luckiest, Liverpool unluckiest
- Index proves luck doesn’t even out over time

Pogba, 25, a favourite of executive vice chairman Ed Woodward, has three years left on his contract with the option of a further 12 months, and the club are under no pressure to sell. There is also no indication at this stage that Pogba is willing to agitate for a transfer.

Pogba, who did not accompany United on the U.S. tour, will meet Mourinho this week after returning to United’s Carrington training centre Monday after a three-week break following France’s World Cup triumph.

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EXCLUSIVE: Mourinho says World Cup allowed Pogba to focusJose Mourinho tells ESPN FC that the World Cup was the perfect habitat for Paul Pogba as he could ‘only think about football.’
Mourinho said in July that Pogba got better as the World Cup progressed because the stakes only got higher and higher, whereas the ups and downs of the club season caused him to lose focus.

“I don’t think it’s about us getting the best out of him,” Mourinho told ESPN FC. “It’s about him giving the best he has to give. I think the World Cup is the perfect habitat for a player like him to give the best.

“Why? Because it’s closed for a month, where he can only think about football. Where he’s with his team on the training camp, completely isolated from the external world, where they focus just on football, where the dimensions of the game can only motivate.

“During a season, you can have a big match then a smaller match, then one even smaller, then you can lose your focus, you can lose your concentration, then comes a big match again.”

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Hislop: Mourinho’s negative rhetoric wearing on PogbaESPN FC’s Shaka Hislop explains why Paul Pogba might want out at Manchester United and how Jose Mourinho could factor into his decision.
Pogba endured a turbulent time at Old Trafford last season.
He was a regular in Mourinho’s midfield, making 37 appearances in all competitions, and was impressive in the win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in April, scoring twice as United came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

But he was dropped for a crucial Champions League tie with Sevilla in February in favour of 21-year-old Scott McTominay and was substituted during disappointing defeats at Tottenham and Newcastle as City ran away with the title.

In February, Mourinho also appeared to aim a dig at Pogba in his praise of McTominay following an FA Cup tie with Huddersfield.

“I think maybe it’s because he [McTominay] is this kind of kid profile,” he said. “A normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was 9 or 10. … I think the kid deserves a little bit more [recognition].”