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Nov 14, 2018
Nov 14, 2018

Is there value betting on lower league soccer?

Does the highly competitive nature of lower league soccer aid bettors?

How team value can be used to measure competitiveness

Why data is important in predicting English lower league results

Is there value betting on lower league soccer?

Home to some of the biggest clubs in world soccer, as well as some of the best players on the planet, it’s no surprise the overwhelming majority of bettors choose the Premier League when looking for betting opportunities. But does it really offer the best value? Read on to find out how analysing data on the highly competitive lower leagues can lead to potential success.

With the obvious exception of Leicester City’s incredible title winning campaign of 2014/2015, the higher positions of the English Premier League have generally been dominated by the ‘big six’ (Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal) in recent years, with only Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United actually winning the title in the past 10 years.

Unsurprisingly, the overall dominance of the big six has little to do with luck – and a lot to do with the amount of money each club has at its disposal.

Why is the Premier League so predictable?

The distribution of money throughout the Premier League is one of the key factors that contributes to its predictability. A useful way of assessing such data is to visit the transfermarkt website which assigns a market value to individual players and squads based on their current performance.

In this instance, for example, Harry Kane is valued at £135m – despite coming through the Tottenham youth ranks. Depreciation is also taken into account, with Cesc Fabregas valued at just £22.50m despite joining Chelsea in 2014 for a fee in the region of £30m.

According to transfermarkt, the current combined estimated market value of Manchester City (£982,350,000) and Liverpool (£821,700,000) exceeds that of all 72 Football League clubs (£1,296,420,000) by an incredible £507,630,000.

The average current worth of a Premier League squad player is just in excess of £14.38m. This falls to £1.69m for a typical Championship player and reduces further to £215,000 and £102,000 in League One and Two respectively.

A quick glance at the Premier League rankings from the past five seasons show that only three teams (Leicester City, Southampton and Everton) have managed to break the trend and finish within the top six. Even then, Southampton’s squad was the ninth most expensive and Everton’s the seventh.

Total market value rankings top six

 -

Total market value rankings

Position

2017/18

2016/17

2015/16

2014/15

2013/14

1

Manchester United

Manchester City

Chelsea

Chelsea

Chelsea

2

Chelsea

Chelsea

Manchester City

Manchester United

Manchester United

3

Arsenal

Manchester United

Arsenal

Manchester City

Manchester City

4

Manchester City

Arsenal

Manchester United

Arsenal

Arsenal

5

Tottenham

Liverpool

Liverpool

Tottenham

Tottenham

6

Liverpool

Tottenham

Tottenham

Liverpool

Liverpool

Premier League rankings top six

 -

Premier League rankings

Position

2017/18

2016/17

2015/16

2014/15

2013/14

1

Manchester City

Chelsea

Leicester City (19th)

Chelsea

Manchester City

2

Manchester United

Tottenham

Arsenal

Manchester City

Liverpool

3

Tottenham

Manchester City

Tottenham

Arsenal

Chelsea

4

Liverpool

Liverpool

Manchester City

Manchester United

Arsenal

5

Chelsea

Arsenal

Manchester United

Tottenham

Everton (7th)

6

Arsenal

Manchester United

Southampton (9th)

Liverpool

Tottenham

However, at the other end of the table, we can see the same level of correlation doesn’t exist. 15 teams, over the past five years, finished in 15th or lower – despite being at least 14th or higher in terms of squad value.

Total market value rankings bottom six

 

Total market value rankings

Position

2017/18

2016/17

2015/16

2014/15

2013/14

15

Newcastle

Hull City

West Brom

QPR

Southampton

16

West Brom

Middlesbrough

Aston Villa

Swansea

Norwich

17

Bournemouth

West Brom

Watford

West Brom

Cardiff

18

Brighton

Sunderland

Norwich

Crystal Palace

West Brom

19

Burnley

Bournemouth

Leicester City

Leicester

Hull City

20

Huddersfield

Burnley

Bournemouth

Burnley

Crystal Palace

Premier League rankings bottom six

 

Premier League rankings

Position

2017/18

2016/17

2015/16

2014/15

2013/14

15

Brighton

Swansea (13th)

Crystal Palace (14th)

Newcastle (9th)

Aston Villa (11th)

16

Huddersfield

Burnley

Bournemouth

Sunderland (14th)

Hull City

17

Southampton (10th)

Watford (14th)

Sunderland (12th)

Aston Villa (11th)

West Brom

18

Swansea (13th)

Hull City

Newcastle (8th)

Hull City (13th)

Norwich

19

Stoke City (12th)

Middlesbrough

Norwich

Burnley

Fulham (10th)

20

West Brom (16th)

Sunderland

Aston Villa

QPR

Cardiff

So, what does this tell us? Initially, not a lot we wouldn’t already know. The six richest teams will more than likely occupy the top six positions in order, while the bottom six positions will change more frequently.

That much is obvious, given that every season the bottom three will be relegated to the Championship and three new teams will be promoted to take their place. Whereas the top six can’t be promoted any higher – so remain at the top of the table.

The data only starts to become useful once we understand that not only is the cost of a team’s squad a good indicator of where they’ll finish –but also – how close this figure is to their rivals.

Using standard deviation to determine league rivals

By using standard deviation, which is a measure of spread, we can determine how close clubs are financially, and thus, determine their rivals.

In turn, this should give us a good indicator of what a realistic position in the league table would look like for any given team.

For example, the average cost of a Tottenham Hotspur squad player is estimated to be around £28m, and four teams have squad averages that are relatively close to this figure, when measured in terms of the standard deviation for the league as a whole.

Liverpool and Chelsea’s averages are higher, while Manchester United’s average is lower, but of comparable size.

Given what we know about the relationship between money and success in the Premier League, Tottenham have a realistic aim of finishing second, third or fourth - while they’ll probably see topping Manchester City as more unrealistic.

So, as the amount of money spent on transfers, and the cost of overall squads, between mid-table and lower-table teams is still significant, it’s more closely matched than between that of the ‘big six’ – so other, more external factors come into play.

While Manchester United will see finishing above Tottenham as a realistic aim – given how comparably close they are, in terms of squad value.

Looking further down the table, 14 teams, from Huddersfield in 19th, up to Arsenal in 6th, are in within one standard deviation of their estimated average squad value.

Not only does this indicate few of these teams have any genuine hope of securing Champions League football, with the possible exception of Arsenal, it also indicates a more widespread threat of relegation.

Meaning a team many pundits and fans would assume to have a safe and secure mid-table finish may well actually find themselves battling against the drop. While Cardiff, in 20th position in the financial pecking order, and more than one standard deviation away from any of their closest rivals, appear doomed.

Money doesn’t always guarantee results

So, as the amount of money spent on transfers, and the cost of overall squads, between mid-table and lower-table teams is still significant, it’s more closely matched than between that of the ‘big six’ – so other, more external factors come into play.

After all, just because a player or squad has a monetary value, it doesn’t mean they’ll perform on the pitch – with numerous high-profile examples in the past of expensive flops who don’t repay their price tag, academy graduates who out preform all expectations, clever loan signings who don’t cost a penny, and everything in between.

Inexpensive teams can sometimes come together and grind out the required results, while squads with bigger budgets can suffer anything from disharmony in the camp to inept management.

And while ‘the big six’ can often afford to bide their time with new signings who aren’t settling in, smaller clubs often don’t have that luxury.

All this makes for a much more competitive, and less predictable league.

Using unpredictability to your advantage

While the predictability and popularity of Premier League soccer helps bookmakers create more efficient betting markets (making it more difficult for bettors to find positive expected value), this is not necessarily the case for the lower leagues.

Unpredictability might make the task of a bettor more difficult, but it also levels the playing field with the bookmaker - they have less information to help shape their odds and therefore are more susceptible to offer odds with inefficiencies. There is a value to be had for bettors in the lower leagues, if they can find a successful way of analysing the data they have at their disposal.

While ‘the big six’ can afford to bide their time with new signings who aren’t settling in, smaller clubs don’t have that luxury, making for a much more competitive, and less predictable league.

Turning our attention directly to the Championship, of the 24 teams in the division, 18 are within one standard deviation of their total market value.

With all teams, barring Stoke City, within two standard deviations of the same figure.

Stoke, Aston Villa, West Brom and Middlesbrough all make up the market value top four – with all teams having recently experienced Premier League football until their relegation – whereupon they would have received the “parachute payments” given to newly relegated teams.

In League One, 21 teams are within one standard deviation of their total market value, with all teams within two standard deviations, except for Sunderland – who were a Premier League team only two years ago.

All the way down in League Two, 14 teams are within one standard deviation. With all teams except for MK Dons, within two standard deviations.

Why league churn is important

In the Football League, two teams are guaranteed automatic promotion from the Championship and League One, with a further four teams competing for one promotion place via the play-offs – while in League Two, the top three gain automatic promotion plus another via the playoffs.

Three teams are relegated from the Championship, four from League One and just two from League Two.

This format provides bettors with two valuable pieces of information. Relegated teams, particularly from the Premier League, will retain a significant amount of financial might, at least in terms of squad value, the lower leagues hold a much longer list of potential champions and relegation candidates than England’s top division.

Now to build on the base of your mode

More unpredictable and competitive than the Premier League, research and effort could be better spent by bettors to try and base a model around said leagues rather than England’s top division – where genuine value can often be harder to find.

What other components go into said model is also something that will take time to research and develop. This also extends to what markets the model may look to exploit, whether it’s more traditional markets like 1X2, Handicap and Total Goals or alternative markets such as cards betting or corners betting.

Of course, this is something that requires a lot of work and dedication and thorough testing before you will begin to see the benefits.

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