Pre-season is an incredibly important time for soccer clubs. Players have to get themselves back into peak physical condition before the gruelling new season begins, and the matches offer managers the opportunity to tinker with their tactics and formations in games where the result is unimportant. So what can bettors learn from all of this? Read on to find out.
The importance of pre-season
During pre-season, new signings also get an opportunity to become attuned to the wavelength of their new colleagues. It's a vital period in which teams hope everything will coalesce to improve them for the forthcoming campaign.
Clubs also use the time to go on money-spinning overseas tours in the hope of attracting new supporters, with the more glamourous the opposition the better from this perspective. Of course, this won’t be possible in the shortened pre-season of summer 2020. Over the preceding two years, Premier League teams have collectively averaged six pre-season fixtures each, and there were only three examples of a team having fewer than five.
While it is possible to bet on the outcome of friendly matches, trying to forecast a game in which all of the above factors have to be accounted for (as well as players more consciously attempting to avoid injury) seems like an impossible task. However, can the outcomes of summer friendlies give bettors any insight into how a particular team will perform in the competitive nine months ahead?
Pre-season impact on the start of the season
As with any trend you try to apply to team performance with an eye on betting, there will be examples which fit your theory and others which appear to render it meaningless.
Of the 34 Premier League teams involved in the 2018 and 2019 pre-seasons, 19 (56%) underwent a change in form during pre-season that was maintained into the following campaign.
However, let’s take a look at the previous two summers and see what they told us about the Premier League seasons which followed them. With three teams being relegated each year, there are obviously 17 who retain their place in the top flight from one campaign to the next.
From the pre-seasons of 2018 and 2019, we therefore have 34 teams who we can investigate. The first step is to see if their points-per-game (PPG) average was better during the summer than in the league season which preceded it. There were a total of 23 teams who improved and 11 who got worse.
Our first concern is the opening six matches of the new campaign, as it has been shown to be a crucial period in terms of determining where a team is likely to finish in the league table once all 380 games have been played.
Of the 23 teams who improved their previous season form in the summer, 12 were also better in their first six games of the following season. For teams who got worse in pre-season, the correlation was stronger, with seven of the 11 also performing more poorly in their opening six matches.
Combine the two samples together and we find that for 56% of teams (19 out of 34), their shift in form from the previous season to the summer continued into the season which followed.
So what of the other 15 teams? There was a very definite split in terms of what happened to them. For 11 of them, their improved form during the summer was seemingly a red herring, as their PPG average from the opening six matches of the new season was lower than their PPG for the preceding campaign.
That leaves just four whose form dipped in pre-season but then improved upon the previous term once the new season got under way. Among these were Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, which makes sense; the biggest teams often play the glamour friendlies while also giving their top stars a break from the summer tournaments in which they have represented their countries. It’s therefore not that surprising if their pre-seasons results aren’t the strongest.
Pre-season impact on the whole season
When it comes to looking at how many teams carry their pre-season form across the whole of the next campaign, the total of 21 is basically the same as the 19 who maintained their changed record into the first six games of it.
The breakdown is less evenly matched though, with 14 teams posting a higher PPG in both the summer and the subsequent season than they had the year before, with seven clubs being worse in both instances.
In total, there were 15 clubs in the last two seasons who were better or worse in pre-season than they had been in the previous campaign, and went on to maintain that status for both the opening six games of the subsequent season and across all 38 matches.
The quintet of teams who were worse and stayed there are probably the more interesting side of the group, as four of them sacked their managers in the first half of the season. Jose Mourinho was let go by Manchester United in December 2018, while Mauricio Pochettino, Unai Emery and Marco Silva were all relieved of their duties before Christmas in 2019. Whether bettors should pay attention to pre-season results is up for debate, but club chairman seem to certainly take note of them.
Pre-season impact on the Golden Boot
There are countless players whose form in pre-season bears no resemblance to how they perform once the competitive action gets underway, but the research for this study did throw up one interesting example.
In the 2018/19 season, Danny Ings failed to score a league goal past December. However, his three goals in the warm-up matches ahead of last season may have given him a psychological boost, and he ultimately ended the campaign joint-second in the Premier League Golden Boot standings.
With odds of up to 200/1 available each way before the 2019/20 season began, that could’ve proved a seemingly unlikely but very profitable bet. Naturally, you shouldn’t bet on every player who scores goals in pre-season friendlies to win the Golden Boot, but this suggests that they can provide certain players with a motivational lift.
Overall, it appears to be impossible to say with any degree of certainty what impact the summer friendlies have upon the next season proper for either the players or teams. However, there are enough examples to suggest that you shouldn’t simply dismiss the significance of pre-season either.