Soccer - also known as football outside of North America - is currently the most watched sport in the world and with it comes a diverse range of betting opportunities and a plethora of betting markets from which to profit from.
From soccer odds for the major European leagues – like the English Premier League and La Liga – to massive international tournaments like the World Cup and European Cup, these basic handicapping tips will help you be a smart soccer punter.
Current home/away form
Home and away form can be quite significant in soccer. Some teams have managed to turn their home ground into a fortress which can intimidate the opposition and give a huge boost to the hosts even if they're an underdog.
Leicester City’s Premier League title run in 2015-16 and Atletico Madrid in the 2013-14 La Liga campaign are perfect examples of this - both of which were huge underdogs who went on to win their respective leagues. Whenever they slipped up away from home, they always managed to come good in front of their home crowd.
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When a team is playing poorly sometimes, it can be a hindrance to play at home as the pressure to win in front of the home crowd can become overwhelming for some teams. While it seems counter-intuitive, it can sometimes be a smarter play to favor poorly performing teams on the road. Similarly, when a team is in form it may be worth playing them when they’re in front of their home crowd due to the “12th man” effect.
Other factors to take into consideration are travel distances, Brazil, China and the U.S. have the largest distance travelled per game than any other league, and therefore playing away from home can be a huge disadvantage for the travelling team. Another thing soccer bettors to keep in mind is that jetlag has more of an effect when teams are flying long distances from West to East rather than East to West.
Referee bias is real in soccer. One study from Bath University in the UK confirmed that referees subconsciously tend to favor the home side. This could be in part to the hostile environments of some stadiums, so keep that in mind when you're thinking of taking the road team. Some handicappers avoid playing the road team especially when they’re the odds-on favorite. This can be a quick path to the poorhouse.
Management is often overlooked when assessing teams’ ability. We believe this plays a significant part in the success of a team. Over the years we've seen some of the best players in the world brought in to improve a team's quality only for the team to fall short time and time again.
A perfect example of this would be Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal from 2014-2016. The Red Devils spent hundreds of millions trying to improve their squad with marquee signings only to be left disappointed when they results didn’t follow. A good manager has to be able to maintain a healthy morale, have an in-depth tactical knowledge, and most importantly know how to get his team to gel and move the ball fluidly.
Looking at a manager's career, you should consider ones who have been able to maintain a solid track record of getting teams to “punch above their weight” and ones who specialize at doing whatever it takes to win.
Another aspect you may want to look at is if the manager has just been hired. If this is the case, it can often take a while for the Manager to get his team playing the tactics he wants and to get in the right personnel. Generally, it would be wise to observe teams with new management before deciding to bet on them.
Another important thing to note is the timing of a coach's arrival. Has the manager been brought in mid-season to rescue the team from relegation? Was he a panic hire? If so, these teams may worth be fading for their first few games.
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Some teams have depth in their squads (Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United, Bayern Munich come to mind) and absorb an injury while other teams can be hit badly if their star playmaker or prolific striker gets injured or suspended. It is essential that you monitor the team's injury and suspension list before you decide to place your bet.
Injury reports can often be unreliable until the actual day of the game, so don’t assume a player will be absent unless there’s been an official confirmation from the club or a reputable news source. Starting lineups are always released one hour before kickoff. If you’re quick to notice a key player missing you can often take advantage of better prices before the market reacts. Be sure to follow the official Twitter account of the teams in question.
If you like to stay a few steps ahead of the game, you might want to take note of suspensions/Injuries as they happen in real time and look to possibly fade teams in their next game (if their next game happens to be posted for betting). Be careful though, the extent of injuries are often unknown until a few hours after the match.
This doesn’t hold as much weight as some of the others, but it’s always worth having a quick check of the recent head-to-head records - particularly to see how the away team performs at the hosts ground. Some teams have a history of underperforming at some stadiums and it can end up having a psychological effect on the players.
A perfect example of this is Real Sociedad’s dominance over Barcelona in La Liga at their home ground - the ‘Anoeta’. Despite the huge gulf in class, Real Sociedad came into every home game with a superior confidence of getting a result against the far superior Barcelona. Between the years of 2011 and 2016, Barcelona failed to beat the mediocre Real Sociedad once on their home turf.
With +0, +0.5, +1, +1.5, +2, +2.5 available with most books, the Asian Handicap should be your go-to bet when looking to identify value in a market. This market is perfect because a well-informed bettor should always be able to find value on one side even if the match is heavily one-sided and as there are only ever two possible outcomes we’re dealing with a much lower overround (book percentage).
Asian Handicap represents the most flexible and fairly priced markets in soccer. This is your biggest weapon for profiting over the long term.
Most soccer bettors will probably use a unit based system of 1-5 units, however, this can sometimes become dangerous particularly if you have a good run of 5-unit plays and decide to focus more attention on these big plays than the others.
A better strategy for soccer is a simple 1-unit play were one unit has a dollar value that is impactful enough to stimulate motivation after a win, but irrelevant enough that it doesn’t trigger an emotional response after a loss.