10. Jul, 2022

The Oracle of Matchday 1 – Fortune telling for Union

Unfortunately, DFB set one of the highlights of the year for Union on matchday 1 - the city championship against the old lady 'von der Plumpe'. Or did DFB know about the 33rd anniversary of the first match that both teams played under today's colors? More on this question here in January 2023.

Today's article is about another question often discussed in pre-season: Is it possible to predict the outcome of a season based on the outcome of matchday 1? Here the methodology: The results of matchday 1 are divided into loss and no loss. The result is then correlated with the outcome of the season. We get 4 buckets: 1) loss = relegation, 2) no loss = no relegation, 3) no loss despite relegation, and 4) loss while no relegation. The analysis only covers the Union matches since 1966 and at the highest national levels, DDR-Oberliga, German Bundesliga, German 2.Bundesliga.

Results: Since 1966, Union has started 32 seasons in the GDR Oberliga, 1st  or 2nd  Bundesliga, and was relegated from these leagues 6 times. During this time, Union has lost 15 of its first league games and 17 not, showing the following distribution: 6x loss = relegation, 17x no loss = no relegation, 0x no loss despite relegation, 9x loss while no relegation. The analysis provides some interesting probabilities: The probability of correct prediction of the Union season after matchday 1 = 72% (small trend). Probability of relegation in case of loss on matchday 1 = 40% (no correlation). Probability of no relegation despite loss on matchday 1 = 60% (no correlation). Probability of relegation in case of loss on matchday 1 = 100% (statistically significant). Probability of relegation without loss in the first match = 0% (statistically significant).

The conclusion seems clear: For Union to be relegated, it is necessary to lose on matchday 1. However, even if we lose on matchday 1, not everything is lost, because we were relegated less often than not after a defeat in the first match. Cheers to that! So, is there really no exception? Well, there is ONE exception when considering all 56 years/matches (incl. lower leagues) since 1966. It happened after relegation from 2. Bundesliga and almost bankruptcy in 2004: Union began Regionalliga season 2004/05 with a draw, and still was relegated to Oberliga Nordost. This one-time exception changes the odds to a still very unlikely 14% for Union’s relegation in 2022/23 after victory/draw vs Hertha on matchday 1. Any guess who the opponent was that day in 2004 when ‘the exception confirmed the rule’? Correct, it was the amateur team of Hertha BSC ...