Well, it happened again. Our soccer blog suffered another bad losing streak on recommended picks last weekend. Not that we’ve made a habit of that over the past month, and I’m proud of our successful underdogs-to-win touting which has turned a profit for gamblers in February.
But that’s just it – even when Casual Joe ™ relies solely on a website’s predictions to make his bets, there’s a responsibility involved on the handicapper’s behalf. No, it isn’t wise to gamble on sports while never doing your own analysis. We all know that. But for the blogger it’s sort of like running a fast food eatery. You can put up posters asking the customers to limit how much corn syrup they’re guzzling – or do something about it and start selling soft drinks without corn syrup in them. Likewise, one can lecture readers about making their own predictions before placing wagers. The safer scenario is to make winning picks so that it’s still OK even if they forget to.
Where to start? There was a low sample-size of English Premier League matches last week and there’ll be another (relatively) small selection of 8 fixtures this time around. That helps to narrow the scope of analysis and allows a few more in-print tactical analyses than usual. The reason such friendly circumstances didn’t work out so well on Matchday 27 is that many clubs on the slate did not behave as they normally do.
Jordan Pickford and the Everton backline – considered a worthy unit for much of early 2020 – gave up 3 Arsenal goals on just 4 on-target shots. Sheffield United wasn’t the usual stubborn 11, giving up an equalizer less than 5 minutes after scoring to take a 1-0 lead on Brighton.
Then there was a near-collapse by Liverpool in the middle of Monday’s meeting with West Ham at Anfield. Oft-overlooked midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum scored less than 10:00 into the match, perhaps giving Reds a false sense of security against a struggling side. Hammers roared back with 2 goals to take the lead by the 56th minute, spurring Mohamed Salah and fellow winger Sadio Mané into some unexpected heroics as the club salvaged 3 points from what could have been an upset loss.
We’ve been spending a lot of time trying to puzzle-out the psychology of favorites – whether Man City is focused on the Premier League and/or whether Manchester United is focused at all. Perhaps it’s also time to think about which underdogs are best able to exploit those weaknesses.
After all, the less successful an underdog team has been in January and February, the more-likely it is that it can afford to put more resources into a Premiership fixture in March. There are downsides to having tournament success outside of league play – and that’s just 1 of them.
The favorite and the underdog in this Friday’s lone match, however, are each playing in exactly 2 competitions – the English Premier League and the Football Association Cup.
Norwich City vs Leicester City
Canaries continue to take 1 step forward and 2 steps back. After advancing to the 5th round of the FA Cup, the Matchday 28 hosts wrestled a point from Magpies at St. James Park, and then lost 0-1 to Liverpool after holding Reds without a goal for nearly 80 minutes.
No such encouraging result would come from last weekend’s trip to Molineux Stadium as Wolves scored early and often with a 3-5-2 counterattack that left Daniel Farke’s footballers down 0-3 early in the 2nd half. Defenders took yellow cards trying to stem the momentum of Wanderers attackers.
The idea that Norwich City can be beaten even more-handily by a side that bides time without the ball and then counters is novel – there is a small sample-size of matches in which the likely relegation victims have won 60%+ possession. Canaries won possession significantly vs Newcastle and that didn’t work out so well for the hosts.
Leicester is among the best soccer clubs in the world on the counterattack, though, and Foxes may be due for an easy victory after a series of frustrating losses and draws in February.
Pick: Leicester City (-135)
Brighton vs Crystal Palace
Why isn’t there a sports-betting casino that operates like the stock exchange? That’s been my question about Las Vegas for a long time, or rather, my question to the people trying to expand legal sports gambling beyond Las Vegas and London. Why not let speculators buy “stock” in Crystal Palace (or the Kansas City Chiefs) without the all-or-nothing risk of a traditional bet? Everyone would get a return on their “stock,” but a bad season from CPFC would mean the sportsbook would keep most of the $ and pay back $20 on every $50 or whatnot. An average campaign from Eagles might lose $5 or $10 on every $50 wagered, and a good W/L record for the club would mean that bettors turned a profit. That kind of “Wall Street” approach to sports markets would help legalize online and retail betting everywhere, because it wouldn’t really be betting as we think of it, and wouldn’t create so many hair-trigger wallet woes. It would just be investing in a market, and that’s already legal.
There only 1 kind of mainstream gambling line that already works kind of like that – an Asian Handicap, in which punters can win a partial payoff if they’re close without the cigar on a prediction. Brighton’s match with visiting Palace on Saturday has an Over/Under goal total handicapped somewhere between (2) and (2.5) goals by the pros in Sin City, and Bovada (perhaps realizing that some of its clients would rather pick a standard O/U at weird payoff %s than an Asian wager) has dropped the line to (2) goals even with a chintzy (-140) payoff on the Over.
Meanwhile, an Asian Handicap at (2.25) from BetOnline promises a partial payoff on a (+101) line if the Brighton vs Crystal Palace match nets 2 goals exactly, no payoff on 1 or less goals, and a full payoff on 3 or more goals scored. I like the Over either way, since punters may be picking the Under too frequently (for this match in particular) due to an overlooked ball-possession factor.
Wilfried Zaha has been “transferred” away from Eagles at least once a week by English tabloids this season, yet somehow, inexplicably, he still plays for CPFC. The A23 Derby isn’t likely to come with sloppy tackling or goalkeeping from either side, but it also promises to be fast-paced and intense. Punters know that generating counters can be hit-or-miss for a zonal defending team like Crystal Palace. However, Seagulls isn’t A-#1 at keeping the football, as evidenced by the team’s 33% possession mark vs Blades last Saturday. If Crystal Palace is on the attack for much of Saturday’s match, then it could turn into a more-typical Premiership meeting with passes around the box and occasional counters from Brighton.
Under those circumstances, there’s a strong chance each club will score at least once.
As for the 2 competing markets, pick the Asian if you’re comfortable with those bets. If not, pay the increased vig and expect at least a push on the Bovada line.
Now for our weekly wrap-around on Saturday’s simultaneous kickoffs…
Newcastle United vs Burnley F.C.
The Over/Under total is handicapped almost exactly the same for Magpies-Clarets as the above match, at (2) or (2.25) depending on the sportsbook. Newcastle has not scored a goal in Premiership fixture since mid-January – ouch. But I’m thinking Saturday’s hosts will do just enough to earn a point, making Draw (+205) the stronger choice than a dodgy Under (2) pick at half the payoff.
West Ham vs Southampton
Bookmakers are feeling much better about West Ham’s chances (+165) against Southampton following Irons’ promising performance at Anfield last week. But if you can’t imagine Saints winning 2-0 or 3-1 as the hosts suffer another letdown on home turf (followed by endless clips of supporters lamenting “Rou-bish, pew-wah rou-bish!” in post-match interviews) you haven’t been paying enough attention.
Pick: Southampton (+155)
A.F.C. Bournemouth vs Chelsea F.C.
Chelsea was responsible for my worst prediction-outcome of February, tanking 0-3 vs Bayern Munich in the Champions League not long after WagerBop touted Blues to surprise in UEFA. Frank Lampard’s team may be hitting a wall against sides with elite speed and skill, having also fallen 0-2 to Man United on 2/17. Rising star Christian Pulisic, midfielder N’Golo Kante and other key footballers been out with injury. Cherries can be a formidable unit at Dean Court but the club is facing a relegation threat after dreaming of better things in mid-season.
Pick: Bournemouth (+1) ATS
Watford vs Liverpool
I promised analytics in this week’s intro, but sometimes analytics on a season are more important than athlete vs athlete match-ups in a given kickoff.
We know that Liverpool is the far-superior side. Hornets are about as good as a high-level English Championship club in 2020, and we know how Liverpool usually fares vs the lower tiers of UK football. Even the best Watford players, like striker Troy Deeney, would not be guaranteed anything close to a starting role if they transferred to Liverpool tomorrow. Those are all reasons why Reds are (-240) favorites on the ML in Saturday’s late match.
But for gamblers looking for a 1-to-1 payoff, the only questions are how many goals Liverpool will score and whether the visitors will post a clean sheet. Reds are only a (-1) or (-1.25) goal favorite against the spread thanks to dodgy results in the last 4 matches. Norwich City, West Ham, even “Shrews” of Shrewsbury Town have managed to cover against Liverpool in the past few weeks.
I’ve got another angle in mind, though – Liverpool has largely been excellent following each of its brief regressions of form in 2019-20. Jürgen Klopp’s team barely scraped-by Norwich City with a 1-0 result in a recent Premiership meeting, then out-played Atlético Madrid in a UEFA leg despite falling behind 0-1 in aggregate goals. Liverpool needed an extra-time goal from Firmino to beat underdog Flamengo at the Club World Cup final in December, but went on to crush Foxes 4-0 on the road on Boxing Day. Reds had problems with Aston Villa and Genk in a pair of early-November fixtures, but regrouped to crush Manchester City at Anfield on 11/10.
It’s happened too many times to not be a legitimate trend. Hornets may be stung by 4 or 5 goals-against on Saturday as Liverpool reasserts its league dominance on route to a record-setting finish.
Pick: Liverpool ATS
Everton F.C. vs Manchester United
Offense rules the day in public perception of sports. Gamblers are more likely to pick the Over if they’re confident in both teams on the pitch, and likely to pick the Under if they find both clubs wanting in talent and form. Since a match between Everton and United involves so many elite players, it’s strange at a glance to see Bovada Sportsbook adjust to longer (+105) payoff odds in a formerly-standard Over/Under market of (2.5) goals on Sunday’s marquee match.
Everton has arguably been the superior side in late winter, even though Toffeemen tanked badly in 2019 while Man United staked-out a spot near the top of the EPL table. But there aren’t a lot of happy Everton supporters following a 1-goal loss to Arsenal on Matchday 27. MUFC is suffering from pronounced injury woes including the absences of Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford. It’s easy to imagine gamblers being averse to the Over (2.5) while thinking about that pair sitting-out.
However, it’s not like Pogba and Rashford were injured this Wednesday afternoon. Opening lines and odds for the Everton-United match already had an incomplete Red Devils lineup factored-in.
Has anyone thought to look at the big picture? Toffees have given up 6 goals in 3 matches and haven’t recorded a clean sheet in more than a month. United has averaged 3 goals per appearance across all competitions since beating Chelsea 2-0 just 11 days ago.
Yes, the sidelined stars make Red Devils a less-insidious attacking side for now. But both clubs are scoring goals, and the visitors’ makeshift lineup may be impacting the team’s ability to defend as much as any other effect.
I’d be surprised to see a staid, low-scoring affair at Goodison Park.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Wolverhampton F.C.
I’m sure a few Spurs supporters (if not scrolling and cherry-picking touts) are incensed that I would call Toffees-Red Devils the “marquee” Sunday fixture when there’s a Tottenham vs Wolves kickoff at the exact same hour. It’s not so much that the latter match doesn’t involve legendary clubs or that there won’t be anyone watching. Probably around, oh, at least 2 or 3 dozen (million) people will be profoundly interested in the outcome at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Neither team is coming in all that hot, however. Wolves has been eliminated from FA Cup competition and suffered a series of league draws and losses before beating Canaries 3-0 on Sunday. Spurs’ injury woes are well-documented, and the hosts have lost 2 times in a row after out-lasting Villains 3-2 back on 2/16. Tottenham’s loss to Chelsea on 2/22 was not as close as the 2-1 score would seem to indicate.
Punters adore Wolves on the moneyline, shrinking the underdog to just a (+215) wager after opening lines offered the market at close to 3.5-to-1. Mourinho’s coaching has slowly improved Tottenham’s form even as key names like Harry Kane spend time on the mend, though, and Lilywhites’ last home loss was to Liverpool on January 11th.
With keeper Hugo Lloris showing flashes of his 2018-19 effectiveness plus a Spurs manager bold enough to go 5-across-the-back and dare supporters to criticize, I’m thinking Wolves will have a difficult time getting balls into the net on Sunday.
Pick: Tottenham (+150) or Under (2.5)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.