Analyzing historical data, we can discover profitable sports betting strategies. Surely, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but it at least gives us something to play with and to start building a real strategy. If the strategy can be supported by a particular feature of betting markets or a “personality” of a football league to which it pertains, even better. This will boost our confidence that the said strategy will continue to perform well in the future too. In this brief article I’ll introduce two simple football betting ideas that were lucrative in the past but which I believe may still work.

Backing the Draw in EPL close matches

This strategy was popularized by David Sumpter in his book “Soccermatics”. The idea was to back the Draw in Big 6 matches in the English Premier League. If any two of Big 6 teams, say, Liverpool and Manchester United are playing each other, bet on the Draw. This proved to be a profitable strategy based on historical data. The problem with this strategy is that any of the Big 6 clubs may not be that big in a particular season. Conversely, a Big 6 club can dominate the EPL during a season as Manchester City did in the recent seasons. If teams don’t have equal or close strength, backing the Draw may not be good idea after all.

The popular betting blog Church of Betting — which at the time of writing seems abandoned — improved the strategy by suggesting that we should ignore Big 6 matches and instead focus on close matches. “Close” is a vague concept but the blog fortunately quantifies it. The idea is to back the Draw only in the matches “where the difference of the winning probabilities of the two teams as implied by the odds (after adjusting for overround) is less than 10%.” Put simply, we bet on the Draw in the matches where teams are implied to have close strength.

I backtested the strategy starting from the 2014/15 season and including the 2023/24 season which hasn’t finished yet. The results are shown below:

Over 10 seasons the strategy delivered 4.6% ROI. Though I believe that it’s still a profitable idea, the strategy exhibited a lackluster performance during the several recent seasons. Which can partly be explained by the fact that it has been published in the “Soccermatics”. Any betting or trading strategy revealed to the public tends to lose its edge gradually because markets can and do adapt. This strategy is not immune to that effect either. But considering that most bettors have the memory of a goldfish and they tend to avoid the strategies which don’t work within a season, I think “back the Draw strategy in the close EPL matches” strategy will start to outperform again.

Lay the favorite in the Eredivisie league

This strategy is less risky and more profitable than the first one. The idea is to lay the home favorite if the home win odds are below 1.7. This is a kind of counter-trend betting strategy. If the market thinks that the home team is a heavy favorite, we lay, i.e., bet against, home win. Lay works a bit different than the typical “back” so I think an example will help. Let’s say, PSV Eindhoven plays against AZ Alkmaar where home (PSV Eindhoven) win odds are 1.4. We lay home win with $100. If PSV doesn’t win the match, we win $100. If PSV does win the match, we lose only (1.4–1)*100 = $40.

Since we always lay when the home win odds are below 1.7, we cannot lose more than our initial investment which means that reward / risk ratio is greater than 1 in all cases. As the table above shows, this strategy can deliver good profit with very low risk.

If you want to get started in sports betting, I have written an ebook for you which can be found at Gumroad and on Amazon. It will teach you the fundamentals of building a sports betting model, in particular one based on Poisson distribution which is widely used by bookmakers to calculate odds. With the ebook you’ll get an Excel file with the formulas described in the book. You can use this worksheet to adjust to your needs.