Preseason soccer friendlies provide a unique opportunity for betting due to a lack of available information regarding the fixtures. By exploiting this – and the surprising results – bettors can gain an edge over the oddsmaker.
Each year before the start of the soccer season, teams across the world play a number of preseason friendlies. Since the sport’s globalisation, teams not only play games to ready the squad for the upcoming season, but also embark on commercial trips around the globe.
This season Manchester United and Manchester City lost their opening pre-season games against Singha All Stars and SuperSport United respectively, while Celtic were defeated in all four pre-season games on a tour of Germany.
These results would be inconceivable in competitive football, so what factors conspire to produce such unthinkable outcomes?
Understanding these factors holds the key to betting successfully on preseason soccer friendlies, and by being more informed on these influences than the oddsmaker, the bettor has the potential to make a profit.
Teams Motivation – Commercial, fitness or tactical?
When considering betting on preseason soccer friendlies it is vital to understand both teams’ motivational factors.
Historically teams played friendlies for the sole purpose of gaining fitness and gelling a team in preparation for the upcoming season. However, there has been a trend over the past decade that has seen top European teams embark on preseason tours for commercial reasons.
On the pitch teams are focused on fitness and not winning, which is evident with so many shock results. It is a chance for the manager – who may be new – to get across his football philosophy and have a look at youth and fringe players. Star players rarely play more than 45 minutes.
With big European teams not fielding a full strength side, and playing with less intensity, it becomes easier for the ‘minnow’ opposition, and the likelihood for an upset increases. In addition, a number of friendlies will involve teams already playing competitively in their domestic leagues, meaning the squad is fully fit and playing regularly together, which again levels the playing field.
These smaller teams also have very different motivational factors. They have a chance to beat a European giant, which will not only look impressive in their history but also help to attract new local fans.
Player Motivation – Differs greatly game-to-game
Another aspect to consider is how interested players are in friendly games. This will differ for each individual player, and can be separated by early pre-season friendlies – commercial tours, and minnow fixtures etc. – and more competitive games just before the start of the season.
Early preseason games
Professional players can earn astronomical wages that are bumped up by a number of bonuses written into their contracts – goal, appearance and season performance bonuses.
However, these do not apply to friendlies, so are the big players as motivated to perform well when they are playing against a local club in Indonesia? Also a number of mega stars will be contracted to play at least 20 minutes in certain games, will they be inspired to perform well when playing in front of a small crowd?
With footballers travelling large distances to participate in friendlies overseas they need to acclimatise to conditions, where the temperature can be very hot. In addition to increased fatigue and lapses in concentration, players who travel across time zones are prone to injury and illness.
Thomas Reilly suggests when travelling large distances, training should be light for the first few days in a new time zone – Wayne Rooney was injured in his first training session with United the same day he landed in Thailand, resulting in him potentially missing the start of the season.
Opposition players’ mentality will be very different as they relish a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play against ‘giants’ of the game.
Take the friendly between Bournemouth and Real Madrid, what motivation do the Los Blancos players have to play an English Championship team? However, the Cherries players have an opportunity to play against Ronaldo etc. and put themselves in the shop window.
Late preseason games
There is an evident shift in motivation when the preseason friendlies get closer to the start of the season and the opposition’s strength increases. With fitness levels now raised, team fixtures intensify as the manager looks to fine-tune tactics and match sharpness ahead of the seasons start. Sponsors, broadcast on TV, run events such as the Emirates Cup and the Amsterdam Tournament and trophies are awarded to the winners.
These games are also a chance for first team and fringe players to show their manager they deserve a place, gain an understanding and arrive in good form for the upcoming season.
Be aware of the rules
When betting on friendlies it is important to research the rules, as they are prone to changing. Unlimited substitutions, which allow teams to play younger, less experienced, players, and games with no cards or stoppage time are frequently implemented.
These may seem like subtle changes, but cards and substitutions impact the dynamic of the game, so understanding how the rules changes affect the game can be the difference between winning and losing a bet.
With teams playing games against clubs they wouldn’t usually play, more often than not there is no data on previous encounters, so it is difficult to use form or translate past performances against similar sides because they’re so detached.
With so many factors to consider such as the motivation of players, vested interests of teams and changes in rules, coupled with a distinct lack of historic data, betting on pre-season soccer friendlies offers the bettor an opportunity to earn an edge over the bookmaker by being more informed.