Soccer Betting Strategy - Predicting Upsets

Predicting Upsets

Why is soccer the most popular sport in the world? From a betting perspective, the answer is obvious. Upsets happen often. How often? Well, statistics show that upsets occur close to 50% of the time in soccer. Compare that to American football, where they happen only 35% of the time, and there's no reason to wonder why soccer is more popular. People love how unpredictable it is!

In fact, it's unpredictable nature of soccer that makes it so exciting to watch. Who wants to watch a sport where you always know which team is going to win? It's much more enjoyable watching matches where the underdog has a good chance of earning a surprise result. But what's this got to do with betting on soccer?

Well, for one thing it's partly why betting on soccer is so difficult. The unexpected happens so frequently that it's hard to make accurate predictions. Even big favorites that are expected to win a game with ease can get beaten on occasion. In soccer, there's no such thing as a "sure thing."

However, this unpredictability can also be turned to our advantage. If we know that that upsets happen frequently, then we also know that betting on upsets has the potential to be profitable. The challenge, of course, is knowing WHEN to bet on an underdog to cause an upset.

This is NOT easy. Although upsets happen a lot in soccer, they're still tough to predict. There are obviously times when it's right to back the underdog, but there also times when it's right to back the favorite. How are you supposed to know what to do and when?

The purpose of this article is to help you predict upsets with confidence. We start with two golden rules that you should always follow, and then look at some of the key factors to consider when assessing the likelihood of an upset. We also discuss backing big underdogs versus backing small underdogs, and explain the importance of betting for value. We finish with a very useful piece of advice regarding some alternative wagers to consider.

Golden Rules for Predicting Upsets

Upsets can happen in any sport. However, since they're especially common in soccer, a lot of bettors think it's always a good idea to go with the underdog. This is NOT the case at all. You need to think carefully about when an upset is likely, and not just blindly put your money on underdogs all the time. This is precisely why this first rule is so important.

Never bet on underdogs just for the sake of betting on underdogs.

There should ALWAYS be a good reason for any wager that you place. The fact that upsets are statistically likely to happen isn't a good enough reason. You need to make sure that you pick the right spots for backing underdogs, otherwise you'll just be throwing money away.

So how do you do this? Well, there's no magic formula unfortunately. Identifying good opportunities for backing an underdog requires time and effort. You need to properly analyze the two teams involved in a game, and try to determine how things will play out. It's also important to assess any other factors that may influence the outcome. This is the only way to accurately predict just how likely an upset is. Below is the second rule that we believe all serious bettors should adhere to.

Assess ALL the possible variables that can affect the result of a game.

You can't just take a cursory glance at a game and expect to instantly gauge the chances of the underdog winning. This approach simply won't work. You have to be willing to put in the necessary time it requires to search for real reasons why an upset may occur.

With these two rules established, let's move on to the kind of factors that you should be considering.

Key Factors to Consider

An obvious factor to consider when assessing the likely outcome of a soccer game is the quality of the two teams involved. This is obviously a good indicator of what we expect the final result to be, but it's not enough by itself. If we only ever bet based on the quality of the teams, then we'd probably never back an underdog at all. We'd just go with the "best" team each and every time, and that team is almost always going to be the favorite.

There are all kinds of factors that can affect the outcome of a soccer game, and ideally you need to assess them all to some degree. There are some that are especially relevant when trying to determine the likelihood of an upset though. We have provided a list for you below!

  • Team/Player Motivation
  • Complacency
  • Injuries/Suspensions
  • Style of Play
  • Team Records & Rivalries


Motivation on the soccer field can be affected by a number of things. Teams can get especially motivated for big rivalry games for example, or for games against opponents they've recently lost to. Players might find extra motivation for games against teams they've previously played for. Sometimes a bad performance can result in extra motivation to do better in the next game. Teams and players are also directly motivated by what's at stake in a game. Games early on in the season aren't as crucial as a game that determines who advances to the next round of a cup or who is the top team in the league.

When teams and players are very motivated, it can make a game less predictable.

While this CAN work against you when betting on soccer, it can also work to your advantage when assessing underdogs worth betting on. This is especially true if you can find games where the underdog is likely to be more motivated than the favorite. It's often worth betting on an upset in such games, assuming there are other reasons to do so too.


Complacency needs to be considered for those matchups where the favorite is beyond obvious. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Does the favorite have a tendency to overlook weaker opponents?
  • Do they have a much bigger game coming up?
  • Is the underdog known for upsetting teams that are far superior?

The old adage of a team "playing down to their competition" is what we're looking for here, and even the best teams can fall victim to it. We just ask that you please take this into consideration when looking for an upset in soccer.

Injuries & Suspensions

Injuries and suspensions can be huge in soccer. Star strikers and top quality defenders, for example, can dictate games entirely at either end of the pitch. If a team is missing one of their key players, it can dramatically impact how the game turns out.

The best time to take advantage of this is when news breaks and odds haven't changed yet, which could give you an amazing opportunity to place a wager on an underdog that went from "having no chance" to being a "sneaky play." The bookmakers move quickly though, so you'll have to be on top of this.

Style of Play

Another thing you'll want to track is style of play. If two defensive minded teams are facing off, you can expect a defensive game. That can bring betting on a draw into play, and if both defenses are strong, it could make the underdog more attractive in the event the game ends up being tight and low-scoring. It can work the other way with a fast-paced matchup, too.

But the true target for underdogs here is when the teams have completely different style of play and it could favor the underdog. A good example of this is when a top team that relies on lots of possession and plenty of chances is facing a presuming weaker team with a resolute defense and good counterattacking players. The contrast in styles could quite easily benefit the underdog here.

Team Records & Rivalries

These last variables really work together. You always want to be aware of team records (both home and away), as well as the record within any given rivalry.

For instance, a bad team could be facing a good team but be on their home field where they to happen to be undefeated. They suddenly have a mild edge that makes them a fun upset pick. Another example could be when two major rivals are facing off. One might be a significant underdog that has lost to their rivals the last six times they've met. They're going to be very keen to cause an upset and put an end to that poor record.

All of the factors mentioned here are relatively straightforward to assess. You don't need to be some kind of genius to study them and work out how they might affect the chances of an upset. So be sure to spend some time going over them. You definitely don't want to miss good opportunities to back an underdog just because you failed to do your homework.

Big Underdogs versus Small Underdogs

There's almost always an underdog when it comes to soccer competitions. On occasion there have been games where two teams are so closely matched that both teams are given an equal chance of winning, but these games are extremely rare. Most of the time, one team is favored to win, according to the betting market. The degree by which they're favored can vary significantly though. Hence why some games have big underdogs and some have small underdogs.

Which of these do you think are best for predicting upsets? Do you think it's better to go for very unlikely upsets, and back big underdogs at high odds? Or to go for upsets that aren't quite as unlikely, and offer lower odds.

The answer is that neither is "better" than the other. The actual likelihood of an upset doesn't matter in isolation. It only matters when compared to the odds available. The important thing is whether or not the underdog offers any value. You should never back an underdog just because the odds are high; nor should you back an underdog just because an upset is reasonably likely.

Only back an underdog when the odds are high enough in relation to the chances of an upset.

Let's use a couple of examples to illustrate this point more clearly.

For the first example we'll look at a game with a relatively small underdog. We'll ignore the draw for the sake of this example. A bookmaker is offering the following odds on the match result.

Chelsea vs LiverpoolMatch Result
Chelsea Win:
Liverpool Win:

Liverpool is the underdog here, but only marginally. So it's fair to assume that an upset is reasonably likely. Do the odds make it worthwhile to back the underdog here though? At 2.80, we stand to win $180 for a $100 bet. That's not a bad return, but this is clearly expected to be a tight match that's tough to call.

What we need to do here is determine whether a wager on Liverpool offers value. If you're not familiar with the concept of value in betting, please see our article explaining value and how to calculate it.

To explain briefly, in this scenario we need to compare our estimated chances of Liverpool winning to the implied probability of the odds on them winning. Implied probability is what the odds suggest the chances are, and if our estimated chances are higher, then we've found VALUE. We cover how to calculate implied probability in the article linked above, and we also offer a useful tool that calculates it for you.

The implied probability of 2.80 is around 35%. This means we should only bet on Liverpool if we feel they have a greater than 35% chance of winning. We make that assertion by studying the all the factors we discussed earlier. We can only come up with a rough estimate of course, as assigning precise probabilities to soccer games is simply not possible. However, it's important that we trust our estimates regardless.

So if we feel that Liverpool are 40% likely to win this game, then we'd go ahead and back them. If we feel that they're only 30% likely, then we wouldn't. Yes, it's that simple!

For the second example we'll look at a match where the teams aren't closely matched at all. Again, we'll ignore the draw. Here are the odds on offer from a bookmaker.

Arsenal vs HullMatch Result
Arsenal Win:
Hull Win:

Hull are a big underdog here, which suggests that they're very unlikely to win. But at odds of 8.00, we stand to win $700 for a $100 bet. That's a great potential return. In a situation like this, betting on the underdog might be worth considering.

Please note: we said MIGHT! Needless to say, if this match is a winless team going up against the best team in the league, it really won't make a lot of sense to bet on the underdog. Again, we need to consider the value. The implied probability of 8.00 is 12.5%. So we'd need to give Hull around a 15% chance (or better) of winning if we were going to back them here.

The key point to take from all this is that you have to give careful consideration to whether an underdog is worth backing or not. You can't make your decision based solely on the odds, or solely on how likely you think an upset is. It is only when you compare both of these things that you can determine whether or not there is any value. When there IS value, it's time to consider placing a bet.

Alternative Wagers for Backing Underdogs

In the above examples we ignored the possibility of a draw. This was just to make the examples easier to understand, but the fact is that the draw DOES have to enter the equation when predicting upsets. There are three possible outcomes in a game of soccer. Either team can win, or the game can end in a draw. When backing an underdog outright, two of those possible outcomes will cost you money. The only way you can win is if the underdog wins.

Draws can be very frustrating when predicting upsets. If we back an underdog and the game ends up tied, we win nothing. But we were kind of "half right." We've correctly predicted an upset, in that the favorite didn't win. We just didn't get the result we needed to earn a payout.

This is why we like to use alternative wagers when predicting upsets. Specifically, we like to use the following two wagers.

  • Draw no bet
  • Double chance

These are ideal wagers to use when we think an upset is a possibility, because they significantly reduce our chances of losing money. With the draw no bet, we get our stake returned if the game ends in a tie. And with the double chance, we can cover both the underdog AND the draw. Basically, we get a payout as long as the favorite doesn't win.

We have to take reduced odds with both these wagers, but in most cases they offer better overall value than backing an underdog outright. So we highly recommended using them, or at least considering them. Most bookmakers and betting sites offer these options, and you can read more about how they work in our article on the different types of soccer wagers.


Upsets are very common in soccer, which is why betting on the underdog can lead to huge payouts.

Always expecting an upset and choosing to bet on the underdog will get you nowhere, however. It's important to back the underdog at the right time and in the right situations. Predicting upsets will help you know when there's value in backing the underdog.

There's a wealth of valuable information that can help you to identify opportunities for genuinely good value wagers. You'll have to dedicate some time to carrying out research, but the required research is not especially difficult. You just need to study the relevant teams and the circumstances surrounding a game.

When you're through with your research, you should have a pretty good idea as to whether an underdog has a realistic chance of staging an upset. Then you can decide if they offer good enough odds to make a bet worthwhile.

Just remember to keep your stakes reasonably low when backing underdogs. These are always going to be fairly risky wagers, and you're likely to lose more than you win. You can still make an overall profit, but we don't advise putting too much money on the line.

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