Mark O'Haire tells us about his essential checklist that football bettors should use in order to find the perfect punt...
"Know which players are paramount to their clubs and systems; as an example, no player moved the market more than Jamie Vardy in 2019/20 - if the Leicester hitman was unavailable, the Foxes' odds took a hike."
Building a successful football betting strategy can be a real challenge at the best of times. Sophisticated modelling based on big data is often reserved for advanced analytics experts and professional syndicates but there are ways in which casual punters can close the gap on the elite without investing vast sums in expensive software and programming.
To be successful in this game, work-rate and research is key. However, there are a series of preparatory steps that can be taken to analyse the strength of your selection. A simple checklist can give you a wholesome glimpse into the pros and cons of your bet and is easily undertaken. I aim to share my own below and so, in no particular order:
1. Data debrief
The natural starting point is to view the relevant data for the teams in focus. Even the most basic review of shot counts can help point us towards a team that are over or underachieving. For the more adventurous, digging deeper into shot location is always advised with attempts from inside the box and/or Expected Goals (xG) a strong companion.
Take the per-game figures as a starting point if possible, get hold of ratio return (the club's share of the total shots or xG in their season) and if time allows, check out their performance outputs against similar standard sides, as well as their data form over their most recent 5-10 fixtures. This should give you a solid foundation for evaluating teams.
Quite often overlooked, weather and pitch conditions can be pivotal to how a contest plays out. Stifling heat will lead towards a slower-paced game and therefore the likelihood of a high-scoring shootout decreases; similarly, high winds and heavy rains can create a more level playing field, with goal tallies declining.
A slick surface is always more advantageous for entertaining football but during the winter months, try to keep tabs on stadiums where this isn't possible. For example, Newport County share their ground with the local rugby clubs and pictures from their Rodney Parade base during January highlight the pitfalls of ignoring potential negatives with the pitch.
Have a team played in Europe in midweek? Were they in Europa League action on Thursday evening, particularly away in a far-flung city with poor travel connections? Could the same side be on the road again on Sunday afternoon against a team that's enjoyed a free midweek? The lack of rest, recuperation and preparation time should always be considered.
Similarly, it's always worth looking ahead to try and spot when and where a big-hitter is aiming to rest and rotate their squad throughout the season. This isn't always easy but plotting the potential games where the first XI might be given a breather is always beneficial when inspecting prices.
4. Psyche and motivation
This can be an extension to point three and focusses on the team's thirst for victory, as well as their recent results and form. Listen to the manager's press conference and get a feeling for the mood in the camp; are they in the midst of a poor run? Are they prioritising a more winnable fixture? Have they already qualified from their Champions League pool?
Understanding the aims and aspirations of the sides on show can prove invaluable. This largely applies for cup competitions, although the growing chasm from league-to-league between the title challengers and relegation battlers has seen a similar physiological approach utilised at times in Europe's major leagues over the past few seasons.
5. Team news
This will require little explanation. If Team X are missing top goalscorer Player Y, naturally they're not quite as an attractive a prospective. Know which players are paramount to their clubs and systems; as an example, no player moved the market more than Jamie Vardy in 2019/20 - if the Leicester hitman was unavailable, the Foxes' odds took a hike.
Certain websites allow you to filter results with and without individual players, giving you a glimpse into their importance. However, it's good practise to put together prospective XIs and evaluate the influence of those absent whenever possible, particularly if the team in question is unusually short in a certain position due to injuries and suspensions.
Again, this is a no-brainer but can often be overlooked. Knowing how the two teams are likely to set-up can play a major part in making your proposed punt. Is a certain team possession-heavy, vulnerable to the counter-attack or reliant on set-pieces? Is one side particularly poor when playing against wing-backs, lacking pace or height in certain areas?
We can also dig down into individual players and pick out key battles on the field. For example, Adama Traore, Jack Grealish and Wilfried Zaha have been shining lights for clubs outside of the Big Six, capable of hurting opposition defences. Be clued up on who will be in direct competition and gauge their ability to minimise the threat.
7. Price and value
My final point is the most important. I've covered the relevance of price and value in previous Masterclass columns so I won't go into detail here. However, our end goal is always the same and that's finding value: backing a selection where the probability of a given outcome is greater than the bookmakers odds reflect.
If you're unsure on what odds a side should be in a certain situation (for example, a mid-table team at home to a relegation candidate), review previous closing prices from similar standard clubs under the same conditions and you'll soon start to recognise the outliers. Sites such as Football Data and Odds Portal are tremendous resources for archived odds.
Remember, getting the best odds available (and beating the closing price) is pivotal to long-term successful punting. Obviously, you'll rarely find a side or selection that ticks all these boxes but it's always advised to be as tooled up as possible before pulling that trigger.
Be sure to check out the other volumes in our Betting Masterclass series, listed below:
Volume 1 - Ed Hawkins on Test Match 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
Volume 5 - Mark O'Haire on benefits of data and beating the closing price