Soccer is a sport with countless factors that influence the outcome of a match. Goals, set pieces, a player being sent off, an influential player getting injured are obvious to most bettors. But what about the size of the pitch a match is played on? This article explains what impact pitch size has in soccer betting.
In order to succeed when betting on soccer, considerations need to be made for anything that could affect the result of a match. Regardless of whether you’re betting on the 1X2, the Over/Under or less traditional markets like corners betting, analysing the smallest details will help empower your betting - the size of the pitch is one such detail.
How pitch sizes can vary in soccer
To some, all soccer pitches look the same. However, both the width and length can vary and teams can choose what size their pitch is. In terms of English soccer, the FA (Football Association) states that pitches have to be a minimum of 45 metres in width and 90 metres in length. The maximum allowed is 90 meters in width and 120 meters in length.
Action zones, ratio of short to long passes, average number of crosses per game and average time spent in possession will help bettors assess whether they will be suited to a big or small pitch.
The FA’s official rules state that pitches should be 68mx105m but permission can be given to a club to alter the dimensions of the pitch if it is impossible to comply with rules due to the nature of the construction of its Stadium.
Of course, you won’t see any teams with a square 90mx90m pitch - they tend to stick within a similar range of dimensions. Stoke City has the smallest pitch in the Premier League (66mx100m) and multiple clubs share the title of the biggest pitch (68mx105m).
Why do teams prefer different size pitches?
The reason that pitch size is important in soccer is that it impacts the effectiveness of tactics used. A team that likes to force their opponents to play through the middle and restrict the amount of open space will prefer a smaller pitch, while teams that have an expansive passing style and like to attack down the wings and cross the ball will be suited to a bigger pitch.
This means that when a team that prefers to play on a smaller pitch plays at home - and benefits from home field advantage - they play on the optimal size pitch for the tactics they use. When these teams travel to games against sides that prefer bigger pitches they are forced to adapt their style of play.
Small pitch teams
As previously mentioned, Stoke City has the smallest pitch in the Premier League. In addition to Stoke, Crystal Palace (67mx100m), Everton (68mx100m) and Liverpool (68mx101m) have notably smaller pitches than the norm.
At a basic level, small pitches will help defensive teams who sit back and soak up pressure.
It is also worth noting that Tottenham Hotspur previously had one of the smallest Premier League pitches (67mx100m) but after a change of stadia, their new home games will be played at Wembley (69mx105m) whilst their new stadium is built - one reason why a new stadium could be a disadvantage.
Big pitch teams
Although Tottenham’s change of stadium has left them with no choice in terms of pitch size, some teams actively choose to play on a bigger pitch. Arsenal, Burnley, Leicester City, Watford, Manchester City and West Ham United are examples of such teams with a pitch size of 68mx105m.
These dimensions only relate to the actual pitch markings. Sometimes the distances between the edge of the pitch and advertising hoardings, as well as camera angles when watching a match on television can make a pitch appear bigger or smaller than they actually are.
How do teams perform on different size pitches?
The easiest way to analyse how teams that prefer smaller pitches perform on bigger pitches and vice versa is to compare expected points totals with actual points totals from last season.
Mark Taylor introduced the use of expected points in his Clutch scorers and Soccer prediction: Past performance vs. Past odds articles. It simply uses fair probability of a win and draw for a team (derived from Pinnacle’s closing odds) and converts it into an expected points total.
How to calculate expected points:
(Fair win probability x 3) + (Fair draw probability x 1)
Small pitch teams vs. Big pitches
Big pitch teams vs. Small pitches
Big pitch teams vs. Small pitches performance analysis
The data above doesn’t come from a big enough sample size to allow us to make any definitive claims that a team underperforms when playing against opponents that have a bigger or smaller pitch than they are used to. However, the results are still worth noting and perhaps analysing further.
What have we learnt about pitch size?
Firstly, the fact that teams can determine the size of their own pitch is important - otherwise teams wouldn’t choose to make their pitch smaller or bigger than the norm. The evidence suggests that bettors should certainly think about pitch size amongst many other things when betting on soccer.
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At a basic level, small pitches will help defensive teams who sit back and soak up pressure. Conversely, big pitches make it easier for possession-centric teams to keep the ball, spread play and drag their opponents out of position to create space.
In addition to a team’s choice of pitch size in their own stadium, looking at individual teams’ “actions zones” (where they spend the most time in position), ratio of short to long passes, average number of crosses per game and average time spent in possession will also help bettors assess whether they will be suited to playing on a big or small pitch.