Getting to the 'Huth' of the matter | Set pieces!

Getting to the 'Huth' of the matter | Set pieces!

Last season Stoke scored 46 goals in 38 games, only Birmingham, Wigan, West Ham and Sunderland scored fewer goals in the English Premier League while Tony Pulis’s side also managed to complete nine matches without the opposition scoring.

These statistics on their own tell us very little, apart from maybe re-affirming the belief that Stoke under Tony Pulis are difficult to break down and are arguably a team that covet defence more than attack.

However when delving deeper into the goal scoring statistics we find some quite astonishing results, and information that we can utilise when searching for profitable bets in this coming EPL season.

It’s important to remember that if your primary motivation for betting on football is to make a profit then you should never just try to back winners. Instead, you should always be betting on something to happen that has a significantly greater probability of being successful than the odds being offered by the bookmakers indicate.

Put basically, in a game of heads and tails the chances of the coin being heads or tails is 50:50 (50% each), in traditional odds terms that’s evens, in decimal odds terms that’s 2.0.

If you were to place a bet on whether that genuine coin was to end heads after it was spun in the air you would expect it be a 50% chance – however if someone offered you the opportunity to have a bet on it being heads at 33.33% (2/1 or 3.0) you should bite their hands off. Even if it came up tails, in the long run over a period of coin tosses if you were being offered 33.33% (2/1 or 3.0) you could expect to make a significant profit.

It is with this understanding that all my articles will be written.

So, I embarked on analysing Stoke’s goal scoring record in the 2010/11 EPL season – my aim; to find a potential difference between what odds the bookmakers offer and what statistically the evidence suggests should actually be the odds the bookmakers offer.

Stoke is a team that has many different statistics to the average EPL side. We all know about Rory Delap’s long throw ins, but their reliance on set pieces for their goals is staggering.  Last season Stoke achieved the lowest number of open play chances than any other side (206), but conversely they created the highest number of set piece chances – by some way at 85 – only Chelsea were even in the seventies.

That meant that 29% of all Stoke’s chances were created via set pieces. This compares with an EPL average of 15%. Again, these facts tend to back up our basic understanding of Stoke’s general playing style.

It is only when we analyse Stoke’s goal scoring statistics in conjunction with the above and in relation to other sides goal scoring statistics that we can see that there may be potential for utilising this information in our betting.

There is a famous quote in the world of betting, if you want to make profits in the long term always go against the crowd.  If most people think something will happen, the odds on it happening, more often than not, will be lower (shorter) than the actual probability of it happening. A very good example is who will score the first goal in a football match.

Forget about odds for a moment. Let’s look ahead to Man Utd’s home game against Norwich and let us assume that all United’s players are available for selection. If you were asked to submit a list of the most likely first goal scorer for the match, where would you start? Most likely it would probably be Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov, Ashley Young or Nani – in other words United players who were playing in the forward line who have a record of scoring goals, and who will get the most opportunities to score the first goal. Norwich attackers would be the second wave, United midfielders in the third wave, Norwich midfielders in the fourth, then United defenders and finally Norwich defenders.

This is what bookmaker odds compliers do – however, they then attribute odds to the probability based on which players will have access to most chances (shots and position near to goal to shot and therefore score).

You will see that defenders are almost always the last waves of probability/odds to score the first goal. And that’s sensible – they will be less likely to find themselves near to the goal to shoot.

However, with Stoke this is not the case. With so many set pieces and a high percentage of their overall chances coming from set pieces (29%) defenders account for a much higher seasonal  percentage of a sides number of shots than any other EPL side.  I wanted to ascertain if Stoke defenders had a higher proportion of opportunities to score than their EPL counterparts. The results made interesting reading.

I have pulled together the top playing 100 defenders from last year, and Robert Huth tops the defenders table for number of shots (45), number of shots off target (31), number of attempts inside the box (38), number of goals (6), highest percentage of team goals by a defender (13%), highest percentage of team attempts in box by a defender. He also comes in third highest shots per game at 1.29, and in minutes per shot at 69.13. Finally he scores a goal every 7.5 shots.

However, this hasn’t escaped the bookmakers notice, as you would expect. The typical odd on a defender scoring the first goal of a match is 33/1. Robert Huth is the shortest price defender of any defender in the EPL match by match at around 16/1.

However, that can still be value. Last year, of the six goals he scored three were the first goal of the match. If you placed a bet on him to score the first goal of the match in which he started you would have had 35 bets. You would have won three times at odds of 16/1 returning 48 points profit. In the final analysis you would have made a profit of 16 points following this strategy. It may not happen that this strategy wins again in 2011/12 – but given the statistics I will be following it.

The best way of making money at betting on football is by placing bets on the most likely unlikely outcome – a defender to score first in any game is unlikely; but for Robert Huth to do so for Stoke, well it’s just a bit less unlikely than any other defender playing in the league.