One of the most difficult aspects to master in becoming a profitable punter is to divorce the “fan” side of your personality from the analyst, that critical being that can decipher real value where it exists. It seems like a rudimentary notion, something that we should all be able to do since nobody wants to lose money on account of their loyalty to a team or an individual, however human nature is very powerful and it’s not an easy thing to set aside beliefs and memories that are lodged in our subconscious from a young age.
After all, most of us have been supporters of sporting teams and codes since we were very young, long before the concept of determining good each way value entered our heads. If, like yours truly, you are in your early thirties (my wife says mid-thirties but until I turn 35 in the Spring, I’m sticking to early!) then you too will have grown up with incredible memories of individual sporting heroes like Marco Van Basten, Seve Ballesteros, Michael Jordan or whoever sent your imagination soaring at the time. However when sport has the ability to tug at your heartstrings, it’s difficult to leave those memories aside and instead to take the “Moneyball” approach, which is to look for ways to win and ignore how those wins are achieved.
The bookies know about this too. The perfect example right now is that of Liverpool football club, a team that the betting market stubbornly refuses to accept is a mid-table team by UK standards right now. Liverpool have a famously rich history and even when they’ve struggled to keep the pace with the main clubs, they’ve always had individual players that are capable of stirring the imagination. So many of the current betting generation grew up in an era when Liverpool were highly successful and it can be very difficult to set that aside – and bookmakers know this.
The perfect example is the betting for their Premier League match with Stoke City this weekend. Granted Liverpool have more long term potential, but in six rounds of league football so far this season, Stoke City have been just as good as Liverpool. They have two points more and a goal difference that is healthier by four. Note here that scheduling cannot be cited as the reason. Liverpool’s six opponents so far this year average out at 8.9 in terms of Premier League placing. Stoke’s six work out at 9.9. A difference, but not a massive one.
Now let’s look at the match betting for this weekend’s fixture. Liverpool are best priced at 1/2, while Stoke are 7/1 in places. That implies a 0.9 goal superiority over 90 minutes. That kind of pricing is consistent with a match between two teams where there is expected to be between seven and eight places in between the sides at the end of the season. Of course that may yet turn out to be the case – indeed the spread betting firms are currently pitching Liverpool at seventh and Stoke at thirteenth in their overall list for end of season points. However on current form, even allowing for Liverpool’s big win over Norwich, that’s simply not a fair reflection of how well the two teams are playing right now. If we were betting now, in October, for a match that was due to take place in February or March, this line of thinking would be apt. Liverpool have deeper pockets, more players with room for improvement, and a bigger supporter base. All of these factors should play a part in due course.
However in due course is no good when you want to back a winner in the next few days. That’s why it’s critical to set aside all the things you saw when you were younger from gifted players like John Barnes and Peter Beardsley (pictured), it’s critical to set aside your instinctive view of certain clubs as inherently strong or weak and force yourself to look at the facts as currently are. By that measure, Liverpool are hugely over-rated this weekend and opposing them is a good mathematical play. More importantly, this is a lesson that should be borne in mind for all future betting plays.
As a postscript, we will point out that this post is being made live at a time when Liverpool are due to play Udinese in the Europa League tonight. We did not oppose them in this fixture for one reason – Italian clubs in general are often over-rated by the betting community for the very same reason that Liverpool are on occasion. They have a great history, they were once feared in Europe, and great AC Milan, Juventus and Internazionale sides of the past are all firmly embedded in our collective memories. However right now the form of the Serie A as a league is poor, as evidenced by the presence of only two teams in the Champions League group stages and Juve’s home 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk. Udinese have only managed one win in six rounds of Serie A this year having failed to make the group stages themselves, so they are similarly over-rated. Ideally, Liverpool will register a home win tonight, pushing out the price on Stoke City bets for the weekend, and we can get even more value.