close
Feb 13, 2015
Feb 13, 2015

Does an FA Cup run hinder a team's league form?

Does an FA Cup run hinder a team's league form?
Pundits are often heard saying the phrase "the FA Cup has harmed their league form". But is this true? If so soccer bettors could factor this into their betting. This article looks at whether or not an FA Cup run can hinder a team's league form? Read on to find out more.

Read: Premier League betting - why the FA Cup matters for a more up-to-date version of this article.

A side immersed in a cup run is often described as distracted, so much so that their league form suffers. And the case of Wigan, who upset Manchester City in 2012/13, but were also relegated is often cited.

Similarly, Hull were defeated by Arsenal in last year’s final, but finished a lowly 16th having entered 5th round weekend in a more comfortable 11th. Arsenal also fell from second in February to fourth at the end of the season.

It's easy to concoct plausible reasons for teams on a cup run to neglect their league form

However appealing these anecdotes appear, they present scant evidence. Wigan were already fighting relegation before they began their run to the final in 2012/13 and Hull’s comfortable position in February fails to account for a host of five teams immediately below them at the time and within a win of overhauling the Tigers.

It's easy to concoct plausible reasons for teams on a cup run to neglect their league form. Squad rotation in the league to protect important players from injury can easily be countered by an imagined eagerness of their replacements to impress enough to force their way into the side on merit.

Similarly an increased fixture list may be overplayed. Many Premier League teams play deep into the competition, so the fixture burden is shared by many teams. Even those who reach the final aren’t forced to play too many rearranged games, as the Premier League fixture list expects their residents to be playing until round five at least.

Do teams eliminated early in the FA Cup benefit in the League?

It's perhaps more sensible to see if a top side that's eliminated in the third round benefits from a couple of guaranteed free weekends when the early rounds of the competition are taking place.

It's understandable to wish to credit an apparent drop in performance to a single, neat cause. And it is true that both Arsenal and Hull won fewer points per game than previously, once the FA Cup competition kicked off in January. But the twenty or so games each side had played prior to round three is still a small sample size.

A side can appear to show improved levels of performance, when it 's simply due to random bouts of good fortune boosting their point total above their expected averages, but these levels aren’t sustainable.

Failure to accept that the data is often very noisy can result in conclusions that fail to repeat in out of sample trials

Arsenal last won the Premier League in 2003/04 and in the intervening seasons between then and their FA Cup win in 2013/14 their most common finishing position had been fourth. Exactly where they finished when they lifted the Cup.

Hull, in their previous Premier League campaigns finished 17th and then were relegated in 19th. So again we don’t need to imagine an FA Cup workload dragging them down. Natural random variation over 20 games and the usual Premier League expectations of each side could be sufficient to explain their ultimate league position.

It's easy to cherry pick data or use selective cut off points to support a theory with seemingly hard numerical proof, but failure to accept that the data is often very noisy can result in conclusions that fail to repeat in out of sample trials.

What does the data suggest?

If we take a more random approach, we’ve used the return of the FA Cup final to the new Wembley and looked at how the two finalists performed in Premier League games, post the 3rd round compared to the implied win and draw probabilities from Pinnacle's quoted odds. The data highlights that finalists were expected to win 1.65 points per game from early January onwards, but won just 1.58.

However, using simulations there is a 1 in 5 chance that the quoted odds were broadly correct and the teams as a group were slightly unfortunate.

So, an underperformance against the odds shouldn’t be taken as proof that a long run of FA Cup games impairs results

So, an underperformance against the odds shouldn’t be taken as proof that a long run of FA Cup games impairs results. Firstly, there could be other factors involved from injuries, a poor January transfer window, European involvement and simply more randomness. 

And even if the effect is genuine, there is the practical difficulty from a betting viewpoint, because you need to be able to predict the finalists at an early stage to profit from a poorer than expected spring campaign.

Soccer bettors are advised not to bet against a team in the league based on a long run in the FA Cup, and are recommended to read this article, which explains how bettors can fall victim to anecdotes from pundits such as "the FA Cup has harmed their league form."

Click here for the latest FA Cup odds. 

soccer-bet-learn-more.jpg

Betting Resources - Empowering your betting

Pinnacle’s Betting Resources is one of the most comprehensive collections of expert betting advice anywhere online. Catering to all experience levels our aim is simply to empower bettors to become more knowledgeable.