Football- Your expert guide on how to play the match-winner market.

James Pacheco
Author, Betting enthusiast

August 3, 2023

James started working in the betting industry a few weeks before Roger Federer won his first-ever Grand Slam and a few months before Greece shocked Europe’s elite at Euro 2004.

Football is currently the most popular to sport bet on at a global level. That perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise.

No sport enjoys its level of popularity in so many different countries, few sports enjoy its levels of mainstream and social media coverage, have as many high-profile sponsors, and there’s probably more of it shown on live TV and live streaming, via betting sites or otherwise, than any other.

So far, so good.

But just like with any other sport, there’s following it and having opinions on it. And then there’s winning money by betting on it.

And by that, we don’t mean a short-term profit or a big 200.0 winner that keeps you in profit.. before you give it all back! We mean winning in the long-term, which is what betting is all about.

So just focussing on the match winner market in this article, let’s look at what should be for you the key considerations to take into account before putting your hard-earned money on that next football bet.

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Head-to-head between the teams

This will be the very first factor that bookmakers will look at when pricing up their match winner market.

But let’s consider the difference between long and short-term head-to-head records.

Since 1959, Brazil and Bolivia have played each other 29 times in international football. Curiously, that first-ever match back in 1959 resulted in a 5-3 win for Venezuela. But the next 28 matches between them saw Venezuela win just once more, a 2-0 win in a friendly back in 2008. They also managed just three draws.

But Brazil beat them 24 times in that period, including winning 6/7 between 2015 and 2021.

In other words, Brazil have been dominant in both the long-term and short-term. Quite simply, they’ve always boasted far better players in their sides over the decades and beaten them time and time again. So, the next time they play, you wouldn’t expect Brazil to be any bigger than about 1.2 and given that head-to-head record, that actually wouldn’t be a bad price to take.

But things get a little more complicated now. Manchester City have played Arsenal 208 times in all competitions over the years. Arsenal won 98 of them, drew 45 and Manchester City won 65 of them.

So, Arsenal should be strong favourites based purely on that metric if they were to play tomorrow, right? Not so.

While Arsenal have been mostly quite consistent for the past 100 years or so as one of the Top 4 teams in the country, Man City have gone through slumps.

Until 2008, when a takeover by the Abu Dhabi Group, millions to spend in the transfer market, a brand-new stadium, Pep Guardiola and the likes of Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne changed all that. And the proof has been in the pudding with Manchester City racking up trophies like a farmer picking up fruit from the ground.

Despite an improvement in the last couple of years on Arsenal’s behalf, City have now beaten them in each of the last eight times they played each other in all competitions.


Consider long-term head-to-head trends as a good starting point but give greater importance to recent results, that’s because they paint a better picture of where the two teams are now in terms of form, players and manager, rather than what happened 20 years ago.

Recent form

In this case, we’re not talking about the recent form between two sides but rather the form of each respective side going into the match against other teams.

Let’s go back to Brazil v Venezuela.

As we know, the head-to-head suggests Brazil only have to show up to win the match.

But what if in their last five games, Brazil lost three, drew one, and only won one?

It would certainly suggest that they were going through a really poor run of form for whatever reason: a poor crop of players, a manager not inspiring his players, injuries ruling out key players or just a lack of confidence, among other factors.

Venezuela on the other hand are on an excellent run by their standards: their last five games produced four wins and just the one loss. They’re playing well as a team, gelling as a unit, keeping clean sheets and are closing out games well.

So as one-sided as the head-to-head between the two is, suggesting yet another win for Brazil, this may be a unique opportunity to take advantage of Venezuela’s excellent recent form and Brazil’s poor recent form.

In other words, a unique chance to secure a big price on Venezuela, or at least, the draw.

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Team news

Going back ten or so years and an injury to one or more regular starters for any given team was cause for real concern, with their understudies generally not of the same quality as those they’re coming in for. But over the last few years this has changed somewhat, with teams having bigger squads of players to choose from.

Especially among the best (or richest) sides, like Manchester City, Real Madrid or PSG. A couple of players out for whatever reason may not make such a difference, with those replacing them still of an extremely high standard.

A good analysis of which players will be unavailable for a particular game and who might replace them can give you an edge.

Consider who is likely to come in for the absent player and how much of an impact that might have on the team’s fortunes in the game.

For example, if Man City’s Erling Haaland is injured and Julian Alvarez is coming in from him when the Norwegian has been out of form, the lengthening of the price of Man City to win (as a result of Haaland’s absence) may actually provide a good betting opportunity to get on City at an unusually high price, with Alvarez more than capable of stepping into Haaland’s shoes.

But if it was Kevin de Bruyne (KDB) out injured and Phil Foden likely to replace him, it could be a different story. City’s price may be bigger than usual as a result of his absence, but his absence may prove extremely costly. In this case, betting against Man City may be the smart move, such is KDB’s influence on the team.

Luckily, you don’t have to just predict impact of the absence of a player yourself.

There are plenty of websites out there telling you a team’s win/draw/loss percentage with and without a particular player in the starting line-up, so take a look at those statistics. Especially as they may reveal how much some of the more underrated players are missed when they’re not available.

Venue and home advantage

Another factor that perhaps isn’t quite as significant as it was in the past.

Going back a few years and going to grounds like Old Trafford, Anfield, the San Siro or the Nou Camp was like walking into the lion’s den. Raucous and intimidating crowds made it particularly hard work and some of the biggest teams were known to go years without being beaten at home.

That’s changed somewhat these last few years. There’s more scrutiny on how fans behave, away fans are more likely to endure long journeys to watch their team play and it’s all not quite as intimidating as it used to be.

Meaning that with the exceptions of the likes of Man City, Bayern Munich or say Germany (the national team), the best home teams aren’t quite as strong as they used to be on home soil.

But that’s not to say a deep and careful analysis of home and away form doesn’t come into play at all anymore.

Last season Nottingham Forest ranked rock bottom in the Premier League on away form with 1 (win)/5 (draws)/13 (defeats) from 19 matches on the road. However, they ranked a respectable 10th with 8/6/5 at home. In other words, they were always a safe bet to lose on the road, but often available at generous odds to win at home. Or at least, not to lose. See what we discuss below about playing the Double Chance market.

Fulham were an example of the opposite.

With a home record of 8/5/6 they were just the 12th best at home when at Craven Cottage, but a much better sixth when on the road with an away record of 7/2/10. So, using that metric alone, throughout the season they would have been a poor bet at home but a good one when on the road.

And to take things further, sometimes you see examples of a team having a particularly outstanding home record against another team at a particular venue.

A good example of that is Liverpool, who in 23 matches in the league against Crystal Palace, won 16, drew three and lost just four. So, when backing a Liverpool win at home to Palace the odds would certainly be on your side.

Momentum and motivation

Momentum can also be defined as strong recent form.

A team who has won their last four or is unbeaten in their last 10 has plenty of momentum; one who has lost three on the trot or not won in their last eight certainly doesn’t. But that doesn’t paint the full picture.

A team who has won their last three after going behind in all of them arguably has more momentum than one who won all their last three 1-0 because it was such a great achievement to win from behind in those matches.

Just like momentum, motivation is more of a subjective than objective factor. In other words, more about opinion than facts and numbers.

A star striker up against the club who sold him against his will or a team up against one who resorted to underhand tactics to beat them the last time they played each other are examples of extra motivation.

A team fighting to avoid relegation on the last day of the season against one who is mid-table and has nothing to play for is another example of (extra) motivation.

Of course, to an extent, bookies consider these factors, but you may disagree with how heavily they weigh.

Putting the pieces of the jigsaw together

All of the factors we’ve considered are taken into account by bookies when pricing up a match winner market.

As are a few others.

Like one team having played three days previously up against one who has had a week’s rest.

Or a team being banned from having away supporters travel to the match as a penalty imposed on them for bad behaviour.

Or even a manager not being able to be in the dugout as they incur a suspension for being sent off in a previous match.

So yes, bookies will have considered all these factors discussed when pricing up the match-winner market; it’s their job to do so.

But what we as punters can do is take as many of these factors into consideration; the more we consider, the more clues we’re collecting as to what might happen.

The other thing we can decide for ourselves is how much weight to give to all these factors, in some cases more than the bookie has, or in some cases decide that one factor is far more relevant ahead of a particular match than another is.

We can also find new angles that maybe a bookie hasn’t considered with these factors. Or consider these factors in far, far greater detail than the bookmaker maybe has.

After all, whereas a top bookmaker may have to price up the winner market on hundreds of matches every week, a punter can decide the best option is to dedicate three or four hours of research into looking at just one match. And that may just give you an edge, too.

Using the Double Chance market

Finally, don’t forget that you don’t necessarily always have to bet on the match winner market where you have to pick the home win, away win or draw. The Double Chance market covers two of the three eventualities in the same bet. Over on the Betfair Exchange, laying a team to win is exactly the same as backing the other team and the draw on the Double Chance market.

So, using the example of Fulham’s strong away record last season, coupled with good recent form and perhaps an important injury to the opposition (Chelsea), we may decide that Fulham are going to give Chelsea a really good go away at Stamford Bridge.

But rather than just taking the 6.0 on a Fulham away win and hoping for an upset, maybe covering the Fulham win with the draw at 2.8, may prove to be the better bet.

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