Soccer Betting Basics: Assessing Factors Affecting Soccer Games

When betting on soccer, what's your number one goal? Don't you dare say to make money, as that's too obvious. We want you to think outside of the box. It would probably be better if we rephrased the question to something more like this, "What's the best way to make money from betting on soccer?" To win more wagers, right? Wrong.

Let's skip the questions and get straight to our point. The best way to make money from betting on soccer (or any sport for that matter) is to make accurate assessments about the likely outcomes. This is true regardless of what market we're betting on. If we're betting on a team to win the league, then we need to make an accurate assessment about how likely that team is to be crowned champions. If we're betting on a team to get relegated, then we need to make an accurate assessment about how likely that team is to finish in the relegation places.

At a basic level, soccer betting really is that simple. We need to work out how likely something is to happen, see what the odds are on that outcome, and then place a wager if the odds represent good value. By repeating that process over and over again, our chances of making money go up significantly.

Of course, how much we make will depend on our ability to accurately determine the likely outcome. This is the difficult part. It's not as simple as rolling a dice knowing there's a one in six chance we'll get it right. It's nearly impossible to assign precise probabilities to the possible outcomes in soccer, as there are just too many factors to consider.

What we can do, though, is assess all the relevant factors and try to make informed judgements. In this article we're going to look at the various factors that directly affect the outcome of individual soccer games. Learning how to assess these factors effectively will enhance your ability to successfully bet on soccer games.

The problem is that there's an almost limitless number of factors that affect what happens during soccer matches. Trying to take them all into account for each and every match we bet on would be an impossible task. It's not necessary either, as many of them only have a very small impact. That doesn't mean they're not relevant, it just means that they're not something we need to worry too much about!

Instead, we should focus on the factors that have the potential to SIGNIFICANTLY influence the outcome of games. In our opinion, the following factors are the ones that you really need to pay attention too.

  • Current Form
  • Head to Head Records
  • Styles of Play
  • Discipline
  • Home & Away Records
  • Weather
  • Schedules
  • Injuries & Suspensions
  • Overall Team Quality
  • Motivation & Psychology

Some of these factors are more obvious than others, and some are more important. No matter what way you look at it, nothing on this list should be ignored. Everything mentioned on this list can affect the outcome of a soccer game in one way or another.

Of course, simply knowing that these factors affect soccer games is not enough. You have to understand HOW they can affect games, and you have to know how to assess them effectively. This is where things get a little more complicated. Analyzing and interpreting all the relevant information and then making informed judgements is sometimes very challenging.

This article is designed to make it easier for you! We take a deeper look at all of these factors, and explain their potential impact.

Current Form

Current form is a great indicator of how a team is likely to perform in an upcoming match. It provides us with some insight into how well (or badly) the team is playing at this precise moment in time, so it's obviously something we need to consider.

It's very easy to check the current form of a team. There are many websites that publish the latest league tables, and recent form is something usually included on those tables. Take a look at the sample we provided below.

Barclays Premier League Teams

This table was taken from a popular sports news site. You can see that the last column is entitled "Last 6," and the graphics here indicate each teams' recent results. A green box indicates a win, a grey box indicates a draw and a red box indicates a loss. This is a really simple way to see how a team is currently playing. We should note, however, that this example only includes league form. If a team has played any cup games recently, then those results won't be included here.

It's perfectly acceptable to focus solely on league form, as it's still a good representation of how the team is currently playing. However, for anyone who wants to make sure they have all the relevant information at hand, we suggest checking ALL the recent results for a team. Again, these can be found on a variety of different websites. The easiest solution would be to check a club's own website, as they always publish their results.

Once you've checked a team's current form, the next step is to think about how that form might affect an upcoming match. Remember: momentum and confidence are vital in soccer. So it's always reasonable to assume that a team in good form is going to maintain that form. This is true even if they're about to face a team that's technically better than them. A team in good form is certainly capable of beating a stronger team.

Similarly, it's safe to assume that a team in bad form will perform badly in an upcoming match. Momentum works both ways; a team with a lack of confidence stands out like a sore thumb on the soccer field.

You can use current form to make some basic assessments about the likely outcome of a match, based on the simple assumptions mentioned above. However, recent results only tell part of the story. To get a more accurate picture, we also need to consider the following.

  • 1The quality of opponents faced.
  • 2The margins of winning/losing.
  • 3The overall quality of performances in recent games.

Knowing the quality of a team's recent opponents is essential. A team's current form could look amazing with six wins out of six, but they might have played six easy games that they were fully expected to win. So does their current form actually mean much? Probably not in this situation. In the same way, bad form might not mean much for a team that's played a few very tough games one right after another.

The margins of any wins or losses are also very important. A team might have been narrowly winning all their recent games, or narrowly losing them, in which case their current form might actually paint a false picture. It's easy to assume that a team with six recent losses is playing badly, but if they've only been losing by a single goal, then that might not be a fair assumption.

This brings us to the third point listed above. The overall quality of recent performances is a MUCH more valuable indicator than form alone. A team might have played poorly and got some lucky results, or a team might have played well and got some unlucky results. You can't gauge any of this just by looking at a form table. Doing a little research, like reading recent match reports, will give you the insight you need.

Taking all of these points into consideration, it's safe to say that knowing a team's current form will definitely help you assess an upcoming game. What we discourage you from doing, however, is assuming that a team in good form is going to win, or that a team in bad form is going to lose. Try to make educated judgments about how a team is likely to play based on their current form: keeping in mind that form is temporary and can change at any time.

Head to Head Records

Head to head records are one of the least important factors listed on this page. They should still be considered though, especially if a team has an extreme record against a specific opponent. When a team has consistently done very well, or very poorly, against another team, then that might just tell us something.

The problem with head to head records is that they're not always relevant. There may be some good reasons as to why one team always does well against a particular opponent, but there's often no logic at all. So you have to be careful that you're not drawn in by something that's no more than a statistical anomaly.

There's definitely no harm in looking at the head to head records of the two teams when trying to predict the outcome of soccer match. Just don't read too much into them, and always remember that past results aren't clear indicators of future results in soccer.

Styles of Play

The two factors we've mentioned so far are purely statistical. Current form and head to head records are precise data that can be found with ease. Assessing that data and drawing some simple conclusions from it shouldn't be overly difficult either.

A soccer team's style of play is much less tangible. It's open to interpretation to some extent, and it's very difficult to assess exactly what impact the playing style of a team will have on the outcome of a game. Doing this effectively requires a fundamental understanding of soccer and how it is played. You also need to dedicate a significant amount of time to actually watching teams play in order to form your own opinions regarding their playing style.

Recommended Reading

If you're not a big soccer fan, or not especially knowledgeable about the sport, then please read our section on soccer analysis. It features a wealth of invaluable information and advice and will teach you how to analyze various aspects of team performances and styles.

We don't cover this topic too heavily here. It's pretty advanced, and the purpose of this article is really just to provide some basic insight. Feel free to read the page linked above if you want to learn more. For now, we'll just say that it definitely helps to have some idea about a team's preferred style of play if you're betting on their games. It's also an advantage to know how well they tend to perform against other styles.

Discipline

A team's discipline, or even an individual player's discipline, can definitely impact the outcome of a soccer game. While this may not substantially affect the results, it is worth considering. There will certainly be times when you'll want to factor it into your betting decisions.

Example

You're considering backing a team to win an upcoming game. However, this team has a poor disciplinary record and they're up against opponents that draw a lot of fouls. This means that there's a higher than average risk of them having a man sent off. You also worry that they might not maintain their focus or rhythm if they keep getting fouls called against them.

Think twice before you place a bet on the above scenario. A sending off can easily change the course of a game, so if you think that's a likely possibility then you might be better off saving your money. You can't know for sure if a send off is going to happen, but then again there's NOTHING you know for sure when betting on soccer.

This is actually a really good illustration of how there are different ways to use the information at your disposal when making betting decisions. In this situation, the team's disciplinary record doesn't really tell us much about the outcome of the game. That's why so many people overlook it.

The information is actually very useful though. It serves as a clear warning sign that this might be a game to avoid. As such, it can prevent you from making a bad value wager. So try to bear in mind that information that tells you when NOT to bet is just as valuable as information that tells you when you SHOULD make a bet. It can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Home & Away Records

Soccer teams tend to perform better at home. This is pretty common knowledge, and it's absolutely something that we'd expect you to be aware of. This information isn't particularly useful on its own though. The bookmakers are also fully aware of it, so home advantage is usually factored into the odds that they offer. For example, the home side would almost always be made the favorite when two evenly matched teams are playing against each other.

However, sometimes teams perform better away from home.

This is rare, but it does happen. Teams can even have poor home records. Tracking this kind of data CAN be very useful. It can help you to find value in the betting markets that others might not have spotted. It can even help you to predict the unexpected.

We've already mentioned that the home team is likely to be made the favorite when two evenly matched teams are playing each other. However, if you know that the home team has a poor record when it comes to playing at their home stadium, and that the away team does exceptionally well on the road, then you might just have found some hidden value.

It's always beneficial to know when a team with a strong home record is hosting a team who doesn't perform well on the road. This tells you a lot about the likely result. It's something that's going to be automatically taken into account by the bookmakers and other bettors though, so it might not really help with finding value. On the contrary, a team with an excellent away record who is playing a team with a questionable home record might be overlooked. This presents a good opportunity for finding value.

So, in summary, make sure that you always study home and away records and factor them into your thinking.

Weather

Soccer bettors rarely consider the weather, but they should: in some circumstances at least. Although you never know for sure what the weather is going to be like when betting on a game in advance, it doesn't hurt to check the weather forecast and factor that into your thinking. Specific conditions could have a significant impact on both playing performance and the end result of the game.

A soccer game being played in heavy rain

Rain is a really good example to use. If it's heavy enough to effect the playing surface, then it might benefit an especially physical team or one that likes to play long balls from defense to attack. On the other hand, heavy rain could present a real problem for a team that likes to make short, quick passes.

Wind is another good example. High winds can benefit those teams that like to keep the ball on the ground, but be a hindrance to the long ball teams.

There are clear benefits to combining your knowledge of different factors when making betting decisions. Simply knowing that there's likely to be heavy rain or high winds isn't very useful on its own, which is why most bettors don't even consider it. But if you consider the weather in combination with the relevant teams' style of play, you've actually got some valuable information to work with.

Schedules

Schedules and fixture lists can have a huge impact on teams. A busy schedule, for example, can push players' endurance to the limits. It can tire them out and even lead to injuries. For this reason, you'll often see a team's results suffer if they have to play a lot of games in a short period of time. This is especially true for teams that don't rotate their players very often, whether due to choice or a lack of resources.

It's not just the number of games that matter either.

When a team's schedule causes them to play one tough fixture after another, they may lose a few games even though they aren't playing badly. The bad results can affect their confidence, and that might lead to poor performances in future games. Conversely, a run of easy fixtures can really help a team gain confidence and momentum.

The effects of travelling are also worth considering. Many teams play in continental competitions as well as domestic ones. Teams will often have to travel long distances to play a midweek game, and then return home to play another game on the weekend. If their weekend opposition has had a free week, or played at home, then they'll be more rested. This can give them a significant advantage.

UEFA Champions League

The schedules of individual players should be taken into account too. During an international break, for example, many players will take part in one or two games when playing for their country. They may also have to do some extensive travelling. This can affect how well they play for their club team in the following few matches.

Injuries & Suspensions

We know this is obvious, but we still felt it was important to bring to your attention. Any team suffering from several injuries and/or suspensions is likely to suffer on the pitch. It's entirely logical that having players out for the count will have a negative effect on performances.

WARNING: be careful when assessing the potential impact of injuries and suspensions. There's more to it than simply looking at the number of players a team is missing and then making assumptions. You also need to consider WHICH players are missing, and how important they are to the team. It's vital to assess the overall quality of their replacements too.

The easiest way to do this is by answering the following questions.

  • How many players are missing?
  • How important are those players to the team?
  • How good are their replacements?
  • How will their replacement fit into the team?

This will help you gain better insight into the likely impact of the teams' injuries and suspensions. For example, imagine a team that has just two or three particularly influential players. The loss of even just one of those players to injury or suspension could be a serious problem, especially if the team doesn't have a direct replacement that can come in and do the job.

Basically, a team that doesn't have much squad depth can be significantly damaged by a small number of injuries or suspensions. Teams with a surplus of quality backup players, on the other hand, can withstand several injuries and suspensions no problem. This kind of information HAS to be taken into account.

Very few bettors assess injuries and suspensions to this extent. It's definitely worth doing though, and not that hard either.

Overall Team Quality

The overall quality of teams is another obvious factor that needs to be assessed when betting on soccer. What's less obvious, however, is exactly how to go about assessing that quality. Assessing the overall quality of individual players is one thing, but assessing the overall quality of the team as a whole is something else entirely.

Real Madrid's superstar players including Ronaldo and Bale

As controversial as this might seem, a collection of great players doesn't always equate to a great team. Throughout the history of soccer there have been teams that have failed to perform as well as they should considering the talented players they had at their disposal.

A recent example of this is Chelsea in the 2015/16 season of the English Premier League. After winning the title the previous season, they then started the next one by losing nine of their first sixteen matches. The manager, Jose Mourinho, paid for this by losing his job. His replacement didn't do much better though, as Chelsea finished the season in tenth position.

This was a team that featured players of unquestionable quality. They had Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois to name a few. They had every reason to perform BETTER, but for whatever reason they never did get those winning results.

There have also been many teams that have performed better than they technically should. An excellent example of this is Greece, at Euro 2004. This was a competent team, but not one that contained many truly world class players. Regardless, they won one of the most prestigious international tournaments in the world.

Another more recent example is Leicester City. They were tipped for relegation from the Premier League in the 2015/16 season. Again, this was not a bad team, but they simply didn't have the same quality of players as other teams in the league. Amazingly, they ended up as champions. To give you some idea of how unlikely this was, the bookmakers had them at 5,000/1 at the start of the season.

So assessing overall team quality can't be just about the talent in the team. Other factors have to be taken into account too, including the ones listed below.

  • Quality of the manager and coaches
  • Squad balance
  • Team spirit
  • Compatibility of styles

The quality of the manager and coaches is obviously important. There's a reason why the best managers in the world are very sought after and paid fortunes. They know how to get the best out of players, and how to put together a team that will work well together. Squad balance is also a vital component in overall quality. A team with a great offense is seemingly worthless if their defense is extremely weak.

Team dynamics are key too. A bunch of prima donnas playing for themselves are unlikely to achieve much as a group. They won't fight for each (metaphorically speaking) when the going gets tough, as they'll only be thinking of themselves. On the other hand, players who are committed to each other and to the team as a whole are likely to be successful. This is especially true if each member of the team works well under the same playing style.

So it might be easy to assume that a team should play well if the players have enough talent, but it's clearly not quite that simple. This is yet another example where you have to really analyze things to a greater degree than what's on the surface. It's hard work, and time consuming, but it can really help you make good betting decisions.

Motivation & Psychology

Motivation and general psychology play a major role in the outcome of soccer matches. Unexpected results are commonplace, and these upsets are often down to a team being more motivated than their opponents. Learning how to interpret the effects of motivation can give you a significant advantage when making predictions.

Cup games are a great example of the effects of motivation.

Knockout competitions in soccer frequently see the so called "lesser" teams earn victories against supposedly superior opposition. Motivation isn't the only reason for their success, but it certainly plays a part. Less talented teams feel honored to play cup matches against well-known talented teams. They are incredibly focused and determined to do their best, while those quote on quote better teams often approach the game in a more relaxed manner. This is when those less talented teams have a good chance a surprising us with a win.

Of course, it's not easy to predict precisely when such upsets might happen. But when you factor in motivation and psychology you may start noticing situations where big favorites might not actually be as likely to win as the odds suggest. This typically means there may be some value in betting on the underdog. You won't necessarily win a high percentage of wagers on underdogs, but the high odds will mean you don't have to. Even just winning one out of every four or five can be profitable.

Psychology is also a big reason why it's often best to avoid betting on derby games, games between big rivals and games where there's a lot at stake. It's very hard to know how teams, and individual players, are going to deal with such occasions. Unless you have a very good idea of how each team will play under pressure, making accurate predictions becomes almost impossible.

Final Points

The factors discussed on this page should primarily be used for trying to make predictions when betting on the results of individual games. Many of them are useful for other types of bet too though. Here are some examples.

  • The overall quality of teams should be considered if making a bet on the winner of a league or cup competition.
  • Styles of play should be considered when betting on both teams to score.
  • Weather should be considered when betting on the total number of goals to be scored.
  • Discipline should be considered if betting on the number of yellow or red cards to be shown.

These are just a few examples; there are many others too. By spending the necessary time analyzing the factors that affect soccer games, you'll quickly discover other ways to use the information yourself. If you're a big fan of soccer, and truly understand the game, then a lot of what you need to do is common sense.

We've provided a lot of information on this page, so you might be feeling a little overwhelmed right now. Please remember that you don't have to start applying everything that you've learned right away. You can start with a few of the factors we've discussed, and focus on them for a while. As you gain more experience and confidence, you can start considering other factors too. There's no rush here, and patience will pay off in the long run.

Just be prepared to put in some serious effort. It's not easy to assess and interpret all the relevant information, and you won't be able to do it effectively without dedicating plenty of time to the cause.

Summary

The main point you should take away from this article is that there IS a lot to consider when betting on soccer games. As we stated at the beginning, you're not going to make money in the long run if you simply rely on guesswork or instinct. Even taking just one or two factors into account is unlikely to lead to accurate predictions.

If you want to make regular and consistent profits from betting on soccer, you have to put some real effort in. You need to learn how to assess and interpret everything we've discussed above, and then work out how to apply your findings to your predictions. If you do all that, and do it well, you'll have an excellent chance of success.

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