Betting Masterclass Volume 5: Mark O'Haire on the benefits of data and beating the closing price

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Man City should have thumped Spurs earlier this year but they didn't. What lessons should we learn?
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In part 2 of his betting masterclass, Mark O'Haire tells us why analysing data is far more important than the final score when it comes to successfully betting on football...

"The result should be secondary in your assessments - the process is the most important aspect, and then you can understand if the winning team was dominant, deserving or even fortunate based on the available evidence."

Cast your mind back to Sunday 2 February 2020. Manchester City have arrived in the capital to take on Tottenham with Pep Guardiola's group chasing a fifth Premier League win in six outings. The Citizens are strong [1.5] favourites to succeed in North London and are handed a steep -1.5 Asian Handicap hurdle to overcome by the layers.

As you may well remember, Man City were beaten 2-0 that day, coughing up a glut of glorious chances having dominated possession and territory in North London. The Blue Moon won the shot count 19-3 and produced a 3.08 Expected Goals (xG) output to Spurs' tally of 0.29. It was a Premier League smash and grab of the highest order.

Based on the xG total of the game, we can simulate the contest and generate a percentage chance of team 'x' taking the three points, drawing the game or losing. Taking that previous example, simulations suggest that Guardiola's visitors would have won 91% of the time according to the quality of chances created, with Tottenham triumphing just 1% of the time.

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In fact, so commanding were City, the model indicated the Citizens were more likely to win the clash 6-0 than lose the match at all. It was another example of lady luck and variance working their magic in the low-scoring sport that is football, as well as a timely reminder that the final score is often the most unhelpful stat in the game. Sounds crazy, right?

Those who didn't see the game unfold might take Tottenham's triumph over Man City at face value and consider upping their rating of Jose Mourinho's men in the aftermath. However, that would have clearly been a false move by those of us that saw the action unfold, as well as smart analysts who will have evaluated the data from the encounter.

Date is your friend not the final score

Traditionalists will resist but the reality is that shot data and advanced analytics are now king when attempting to rate individual clubs' strength. Professional punters and bookmakers alike are utilising available data such as xG to maximise their edge but even the most basic review of shot counts can help point you towards a team that are under (or over) achieving.

So look to inspect and analyse games independently, without worrying about the final score. The result should be secondary in your assessments - the process is the most important aspect, and then you can understand if the winning team was dominant, deserving or even fortunate based on the available evidence.

We can't watch 20+ football matches every weekend and it's impossible to see all 91 teams from the Premier League and EFL in action each week, let alone venture to Europe. Here, data is your friend so utilise its value. Would you continue to back a team that's won 10 consecutive games 1-0 if you knew they had been convincingly out-shot in every game? No.

Respect data, bet early if the price is wrong, analyse results

Finally, no matter what sport or event you're betting on, price and value are always the most important aspects of your punt. Put simply, we should always be looking to back a selection where the probability of a given outcome is greater than the bookmakers odds reflect, as highlighted via the old school method of flipping a coin.

In a coin toss, we know there are only two outcomes, each with an equal chance of succeeding. The odds are evenly split between heads and tails. Odds themselves are essentially probabilities - in this case, a 50% chance is advertised as even-money ([2.0])- and therefore taking anything under evens would leave you on the road to long-term losses.

Why? Well, if we were offered 10/11 on tails in a coin toss, it shouldn't be too hard to work out that continually backing a 50% probability bet (the tails in a coin toss) at a price implying only 48% chance of success will leave you short, and it's a similar story when betting on football. Price should always be fundamental and your first port of call.

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For starters, always take the best possible odds offered (often found on the Betfair Exchange) to maximise value and try to bet early when the market hasn't fully matured and a bigger price than you might expect is being offered on something you like the look of.

Mass money arrives from Friday as regular punters turn their attention towards the weekend and odds will tend to contract towards kick-off with the closing price generally considered the 'right price' in betting terms.

Getting the best odds available (and beating the closing price) is pivotal to long-term successful punting. So the advice? Respect the data, always take best price, review the closing line against your selections to check if you were on the right value lines, and if at all possible, bet early before the markets mature to really make your edge pay.

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Be sure to check out the other volumes in our Betting Masterclass series, listed below:

Volume 1 - Ed Hawkins on Test Cricket
Volume 2 - Ed Hawkins on Twenty20 Cricket
Volume 3 - Ed Hawkins on how to bet on ODI Cricket
Volume 4 - Mark O'Haire on the football stats that don't matter

Mark O'Haire,

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