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Nov 16, 2017
Nov 16, 2017

How does an international break impact soccer betting?

How does an international break impact soccer betting?

While soccer fans tend to loathe the international breaks throughout a season, it provides sharp bettors with a sample of data that could be worth analysing. Does a mid-season international break have an impact on certain teams’ performance? Read on to find out.

There is a common assumption that big teams suffer after international breaks. Many people think we are more likely to see surprising results once domestic soccer resumes. After all, the top teams’ squads jet off around the world to represent their countries, so they will be exhausted when facing an underdog.

Tottenham's goal difference in post-international break matches is just +2, Liverpool's is +4 and the other four teams all have a goal difference of at least +26 from their games.

It’s certainly true there have been surprising results directly following breaks for international soccer in the last few years. For instance, both Manchester United and Arsenal lost at Norwich in 2013 and Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool have all lost at Crystal Palace in recent times.

Have these unlikely results led to confirmation bias being applied? Do the big teams actually suffer in matches after international breaks, or do the occasional upsets stick in the mind more?

It is fortunately very easy to compile the data we need as it is widely available on the internet. We can look at the last five years of mid-season pauses for international matches to see how the results directly after them compare to form in the other games.

The Premier League’s “big six” played 20 or 21 league matches after international breaks between August 2012 and May 2017. Here is how their points-per-game averages in those games matche up to their form for the rest of the time.

Big six international break PPG comparison

Team

Total PPG

PPG post-international break

PPG in other matches

PPG differential

Manchester United

1.88

2.14

1.85

0.29

Arsenal

1.96

2.15

1.94

0.21

Chelsea

2.04

2.10

2.03

0.07

Manchester City

2.04

2.05

2.04

0.01

Tottenham Hotspur

1.90

1.81

1.91

-0.10

Liverpool

1.81

1.45

1.85

-0.40

For Chelsea and Manchester City in particular, the difference is negligible. It is Liverpool who saw the biggest change, and unfortunately for them it is a negative one.

Their goal difference in post-international break matches is just +4 too. That is better than Spurs on +2, but the other four teams all have a goal difference of at least +26 from their games.

Researching this article revealed an interesting nugget of information. It has become standard for two big six teams to meet in the weekend following an international break.

Since November 2013, every time Premier League soccer has resumed after an international gap there has been a big six clash. A glance at the fixture list reveals this runs through to the end of 2017/18 too.

It seems the fixture computer rewards fans who despair at tedious international friendlies. After a tiresome break, they get a mouth-watering fixture when domestic soccer resumes.

But this means our sample of post-international break matches includes 16 games where the big six faced each other. To determine if unlikely results are more common, a look at the points-per-game averages for the top sides against the rest of the league is required. Here is the table of those statistics.

Big six international break PPG comparison

Team

Total PPG

PPG post-international break

PPG in other matches

PPG differential

Tottenham Hotspur

2.17

2.57

2.13

0.44

Manchester United

2.06

2.31

2.03

0.28

Arsenal

2.29

2.43

2.28

0.15

Manchester City

2.28

2.14

2.29

-0.15

Chelsea

2.16

2.00

2.19

-0.19

Liverpool

1.94

1.64

1.98

-0.34

The big six collectively average 2.15 points per game against the rest when it isn’t directly after an international break, but 2.18 when it is. It’s a negligible difference in truth, and for what it’s worth their performance goes up rather than down.

The above table shows that half of the teams fare better and half worse, and the real movers from the first table are Tottenham Hotspur. This is because their record in big six clashes following international breaks has been wretched over the past five seasons.

Of the seven matches played, they have drawn two and lost five. In all of the defeats they conceded at least four goals, though in fairness they were all prior to 2015, and they have become very tough to beat under Mauricio Pochettino.

They will need to be, as in 2017/18 they travel to both Arsenal and Chelsea following international breaks - Tottenham’s history suggests they may struggle to get positive results.

Since November 2013, every time Premier League soccer has resumed after an international gap there has been a big six clash.

In terms of goals scored and conceded, there isn’t a great deal of difference. The goal difference per game for the big six actually rises by 0.17 following international breaks. That's not enough to affect many results, and there’s no decline as you might’ve expected - something to think about when betting on the Over/Under.

The total goal figures remain largely consistent too. It does go up when domestic soccer re-starts (from 2.91 to 3.04 per game) but from a betting perspective it is always above 2.5 goals on average.

‘On average’ is the key part of this. There is very little difference in the overall numbers when the big six tackle the rest of the league. There is always the chance of an upset, but as bettors, it is hard to pinpoint when they will occur.

With only six defeats to lesser sides following international breaks in the past three seasons between them, the results show that the big six’s mega squads are able to deal with their players representing their countries. Don’t expect the unexpected too often in these games, as it isn’t on the cards.

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