Premiership Soccer Betting Primer
by Trevor Whenham - 12/07/2006
Are you an action junkie? Struggling to find enough to bet on in North America? Maybe it's time to go international. For the sake of simple access to information, and the ease of watching games, the first place you might want to start is the English Premier League. Soccer in England is very serious stuff, and the league is jammed full of international superstars making millions. Here's a primer on the league to get you up to speed.
First things first - if you want to sound like you know what you are talking about, you have to call it the Premiership. There are 20 teams in the Premiership. Each season consists of each team playing the other 19 teams twice between August and May. At the end of the season the bottom three teams in the standings get relegated to the Football League Championship (like Triple A baseball), and the top three teams from that level move up. If we had relegation over here the Tampa Bay Devil Rays would be in Single A by now.
Extending the baseball analogies further, it would be easy to compare the Premiership to the American League East, in that only the rich teams win, despite how hard the other teams try. The Premiership has been around for 14 seasons, yet only four different teams have won the championship. The Blackburn Rovers won it once more than a decade ago. Arsenal has three titles under their belt. Chelsea has won the last two seasons. It is Manchester United, though, that plays the role of the Yankees in the Premiership. They have amassed eight titles, and are consistently near the top of the league thanks to their ridiculously talented, and expensive, roster.
If it seems like there are always several other tournaments going on that teams are playing in, that's because there are. The top four teams qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The next ranked team heads to the UEFA Cup. Next up is the UEFA Intertoto Cup. It's like bowl season - any team with a pulse gets to play somewhere. Those tournaments go on throughout the year at the same time as the teams play their domestic schedule.
Right now teams are 15 or 16 games into their 38 game season. Manchester United hasn't won a title since 2003, and it seems as if they are very determined to end their drought. Teams get three points for a win and one for a draw. In 16 games, Man U has 13 wins and two draws for 41 points. That's six more than defending champion Chelsea, though the champs have played one less game. More impressive than that, though, is the offensive power of Manchester United. They have scored 35 goals and allowed only eight. Chelsea has matched that defensive number, but, though they have the second highest scoring total, they are lagging 10 goals back at 25. The biggest Man U tour de force was against Fulham, a game that they won 5-1. That's like a basketball team scoring 140.
Though Manchester United is a lock to win against all but the best competition, the challenge of betting on them is immense because of the spreads you face. When they play rival Manchester City this weekend, for example, they will be burdened with a 1.5 goal spread. That doesn't sound like much, but think of how many soccer games you have watched that have had two goals scored. It's not impossible, and at times they are still a bargain, but it certainly means that their games aren't simple to pick. Alternately, you might find the morning line more attractive, though you will obviously get terrible prices for the top teams.
Despite the challenges when looking at the very best teams in the league, there are still ample opportunities for betting on the league. There is a very large disparity between the top handful of teams and the bottom part of the league. The lesser teams, especially those that have just been promoted, often can't match the talent or depth of their better, and usually richer, cousins. As a general rule, the games are very formful when there is a mismatch, and major upsets are relatively rare.
Though real handicapping of the league is obviously a complex and skillful task, you can do a decent job with a few quick steps if you just want to enjoy a little action, or give yourself an excuse to go to the pub early in the morning to drink beer and watch a game. The place to start is the goal differential, the difference between goals scored and goals allowed. After points this is the first tiebreaker, so it is always readily available. It's a very quick and reasonably effective way to get a sense of the relative strength of a team. Your next stop should be the number of draws a team has. It's not indicative of how good a team is, but it's a solid indicator of the style of play a team plays - lots of draws means a team is likely less aggressive and more controlling of the pace, while a team with few draws is either more aggressive and offensive, or just plain bad. The last thing you want to do is check out an injury report, because an injury or suspension to a key starter can make a huge difference in a game. If you check out those few things you'll still be guessing, but at least it will be a somewhat educated guess.
If that approach doesn't appeal to you, you can always handicap English football based on your preference in American football. If you're a NFC guy, then Man U is your team, since their owner, Malcolm Glazer, also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If you prefer the AFC, then you should go with Aston Villa. The Cleveland Browns and Aston Villa share an owner in Randy Lerner.