How much does it hurt a football (soccer) team to play a man down? What about two men down?

How does that cost shift depending upon whether the team is up or down at the time of the penalty - does playing down a man more heavily impact defense or offense?

Related: Are there ever any scenarios when playing down a man can actually improve a team's odds of winning? (Doubtful, I know, but I've heard of crazier paradoxes.)

Is there research out there on short-handed odds?

(Short-footed is probably the more appropriate term.)

  • 1
    I would be surprised if you got satisfactory and factual answers to your questions based on real statistics.
    – posdef
    Jun 20, 2014 at 7:04
  • @posdef if there were stasticial information for soccer available like there is for the predominant american sports, we'd know this quite well. I'm not aware of a repository similar to baseball-reference.com for soccer though.
    – wax eagle
    Jun 20, 2014 at 13:33
  • @waxeagle thats exactly my point, since football isn't a predominantly american sport, it might be fruitless to expect same kind of literature about it.
    – posdef
    Jun 22, 2014 at 9:47
  • @waxeagle there is fbref.com, but it's still in the starting process.
    – E. Sommer
    Nov 7, 2018 at 11:59

1 Answer 1


There have been several papers published on this topic, which don't always agree.

Check out Ten Do It Better, Do They? which concludes that "that the impact of a red card depends on the minute of the expulsion and does not have an impact at all if given at the end of the first half or later" though red cards do increase the number of goals scored.

Estimating the Effect of the Red Card in Soccer says,

We estimate the effect of the red card from betting data on the FIFA World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008, showing that the scoring intensity of the penalized team drops significantly, while the scoring intensity of the opposing team increases slightly. We show that a red card typically leads to a smaller number of goals scored during the game when a stronger team is penalized, but it can lead to an increased number of goals when a weaker team is punished

Down to Ten: Estimating the Effect of a Red Card in Soccer finds an effect even for cards in the second half.

Being down to nine men is much rarer and probably has not been studied carefully, for lack of data if nothing else.

You also ask, "Are there ever any scenarios when playing down a man can actually improve a team's odds of winning?" I don't know of any evidence of this, but "Ten Do It Better" does note that "an old football myth suggests that...an expulsion might also be beneficial since it increases the team spirit as well as the efforts of the affected team."

  • On the last point: What you sometimes observe is that the team that is up adapts its style of play, but often without success because it might be simply trying to play faster to exploit the man advantage, but the team might lack of skill. Often, the team one man up does not know how to properly exploit the advantage by building up attacks in the area where there is actually an advantage (this is usually not the box).
    – E. Sommer
    Nov 7, 2018 at 12:04

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