Football Trading Strategies – The Ultimate Beginners Guide

Football is by far one of the most popular sports to trade on Betfair today, with this comes a whole range of strategies and techniques which can be used to extract a profit from the football markets!

Thanks to the popularity of football betting, in general, there are always plenty of football matches available to trade, professional games are also usually available at all times of the day (and night) making it a very accessible sport to get involved with. Having said this, however, I would strongly advise any newcomers to football trading to stick to the more popular European leagues whilst learning the craft (this is due to the higher levels of “liquidity” which makes the placing of entry and exit trades more feasible).

football trading strategies - trader celebration in stadium

In this guide I will mainly be looking at some of the most common football trading strategies in use today, this means firstly outlining the strategy itself and then showing some examples of how it can be executed, made profitable and what risks you will need to be aware of. I will also be looking at some more advanced strategies which I have deployed / refined myself and finally I will be discussing how data can be used to help develop or enhance virtually any trading strategy.

How Football Trading Works

If you are reading this article then you probably already have at least some idea of how Football trading works, at the very least the basics mechanics of “back high / lay low” and how to lock-in a profit using a betting exchange such as Betfair!

As such, in the remainder of this article, I will assume you already understand the basics and will look more at how football trading works in terms of applying a trading strategy as opposed to the underlying mechanics themselves. If you are unsure of these mechanics please read my Betfair Trading for Beginners article first and then return to this point.

football trading strategies - betfair football markets

With the above introduction out of the way we can start thinking about how trading works on a more conceptual level, basically this will cover choosing the market to trade, thinking about how said market might develop over time, any associated risks and how best to get in and out thus completing the trade.

Pre-Game Trading vs In-Play Trading

One of the first (and most important) things to think about when choosing a football trading strategy is whether to deploy a pre-game or an in-play strategy, this is really important and will determine how the entire trade is framed and executed thereafter.

Generally speaking, most people will trade in-play, this is due the “excitement” which comes from a live football match and the number of opportunities which, in-turn, present themselves. These opportunities can provide many trading opportunities thanks to goals, corners, penalties and many other factors which make for a very easy to trade sport.

Having said this, pre-game trading shouldn't be ruled out altogether, with the right understanding and knowledge of the markets it is possible to deploy certain strategies which can make bank all the way until kick-off! Pre-game trading is also inherently lower risk then in-play trading (since there are no goals, red cards, injuries etc.) meaning it is potentially a great place to start, get a feel for the markets and then move on to in-play trading strategies later on!

High Frequency vs High Payouts

Before getting into the individual strategies themselves it is crucial that you understand that some strategies are ‘high frequency’ (i.e. they win often, but usually only pay small amounts) whereas others are ‘low frequency’ meaning they win less often but potentially pay out much higher amounts when they do win.

It is important that this is understood, the fact is you will have both winners and looses as you trade and the profit you make will be across all games in which you participate (not just the individual games themselves). With this in mind, if you employ ‘high frequency’ strategies (e.g. lay the draw) you must be certain that when you do get losses (and you will get them) that over time they are more than covered by your winnings. This essentially means you should record all of your results and don’t try and fool yourself that you are winning when the results (longer term) show otherwise!

There is also a matter of patience which comes into play with low frequency strategies (such as the ‘late goals’ strategy which is discussed later on). This can pay out very well when a late goal is achieved but on the flip side could see you easily waiting 10+ games before you see one (and taking all those small losses all the way up to said goal). Again, recording results and ensuring your plan works long term is key here!

NB – Sorry to be a bore but this needs to be hammered home, make sure to record all of your trades and be sure that you are winning money in the long-term before advancing on and increasing stakes – there is literally no point at all in fooling yourself when it comes to your own money (leave that for your work expenses!).

Popular Football Trading Strategies

With something of an introduction out of the way, we can now start looking at some football trading strategies themselves in more depth, this section will highlight each of several popular strategies alongside some less popular concepts I have developed or refined myself over the years.

Before looking at the individual strategies below, I think it is really important to stress that no one strategy fits all purposes and it is critical to be able to identify the scenarios in which each strategy will apply. Don’t try and force a strategy into working when it clearly wont and always try and be disciplined when entering and exiting any given position, if the trade isn't there don’t try and force it through!

Lay the Draw

One of the most popular trading strategies and no-doubt one you will already (probably) of heard about, lay the draw is one of the easiest trading strategies to understand and is a great way to start football trading.

Lay the draw works on the basis that whenever a goal is scored the odds on the draw for that game will change, assuming both teams are scoring level at the time of the goal then the draw will usually be priced higher than it was before the goal. As such, if you have placed a lay bet on the draw you can (probably) now exit the trade by backing the draw at a higher price than before thanks to the uneven scoreline and lock in a profit.

This is actually a very simple strategy and it comes as no surprise this is where many football traders start their trading careers, as you can see above, all you are actually doing is laying the draw and then awaiting a goal to be scored. The trick, of course, is to get a feel for how the market is moving throughout the game, how the teams are playing and then strike when you think the draw might be priced a little bit too low for any given point of the game, it is then all about awaiting that important goal!

One of the biggest risks when applying the lay the draw strategy is, of course, that the game yields no goals at all. These 0-0 games are actually quite rare (around 7% of games in the mainstream European leagues) and will see you having to pay out on your lay bet(s) and record a loss when they do come about. As with all trading there are ups and downs and any losses from these 0-0 games must be factored into your overall profits!

Another thing to be aware of which can throw newer traders off is when a strong favourite plays an underdog and what happens when the underdog team goes on to score first. Basically, in such cases you might actually see the price on the draw contract thus actually making for a bigger running loss despite a goal being scored. This is obviously due to the market expecting that the stronger team will eventually equalise but not necessarily go on to the win, it is usually only an issue when the game is in the early stages. Sticking to more equally matched games and teams when you start out using lay the draw can be a good way of avoiding such scenarios whilst you are still learning!

Example of Lay the Draw

Now its time to have a look at a quick example of lay the draw in action, in the below image we can see Marseille vs Olympiakos on the Betfair Exchange at the 17 minute mark into the game:

football trading strategies - betfair ltd market

As can be seen above, the score is currently even at 0-0 and the draw is priced in at 2.98 to lay, you can also see I have made a small lay bet of £2 on the draw meaning I am now awaiting a goal before I can take my profit (since these teams are fairly evenly matched it is safe to assume any goal will push the draw out far enough to make a nice profit here).

At 33 minutes in Olympiakos scored the first goal, as can be seen below the draw is priced at 3.6 to back just a few minutes later (37 minutes in) and the Betfair ‘cash out’ button allows me to take a profit of £0.30 with just a single click!

betfair ltd strategy - after first goal

At this point there are actually a number of options, the default strategy would see traders taking the profit as soon as the market settles down (I like to give it a couple of minutes normally) and this can be done using the Betfair ‘cash out’ button or your favourite piece of trading software such as Bet Angel.

Other ‘exit strategies’ can include just leaving the lay bet to run in the hope of no other goals being scored and maximising of any profit, although this is generally not advised unless towards the very end of a game and you know what you are doing!

NB – I am not confirming this is a winning strategy by means of my example above, this is just a means of showing a working example of how lay the draw works in practice. In reality you would need to finesse you entry and exit points to make this a feasible money maker! This advice will apply equally to all examples in this article!

Late Goals

One of my favourite strategies and one which is surprisingly easy to apply and very low risk into the bargain, the late goals strategy involves laying the winning team (or any market / selection which will become a “loser” after another goal e.g. U2.5 goals) towards the end of the game and then waiting for a last minute goal to be scored.

The key component here is the “late” part of the game, this matters greatly as the result of the game with only a few minutes to go will be heavily priced in as if it was a certainty. The trick, therefore, is to take advantage of these very low prices and drop a massive lay bet against the (currently) winning selection in the hope a late goal is scored and the selection then goes on to loose. Since the selection will win (i.e. you bet looses) most of the time the fact the odds are so low is what makes this a relatively safe strategy and wont see you paying out much for losses. This strategy is, however, usually very profitable in the long run when applied correctly thanks to the relatively big wins which come in when such a goal is eventually scored!

NB – in trading this low risk of loss vs a very high reward is known as the risk / reward ratio, the late goals strategy (when applied correctly) can in my experience provide of of the biggest risk / reward ratios in the trading of any sport!

It could also be argued this is not really ‘trading’ since you will often, thanks to the extremely low odds you are laying towards the end of the game, not actually ‘trade out’ of you position very often, win or lose. When applying this strategy I find it best to just let the bet ride and either take the small loss if there are no further goals and only (maybe) trade out when a goal is scored making said bet a winner!

It also needs to be said that there is no right or wrong answer as to what constitutes “late” in any given game and that you will need to develop a feeling for this over time. Typically I wait for the 88th minute onwards but this is not a hard and fast rule, much better to wait for the winning selections odds to drop to 1.1 or below and then make an assessment as to how much football you think is left to play and (potentially) start working in several lay bets at this point.

Example of the Late Goals Strategy

Now let’s have a look at the late goals strategy in action, in the below game we can see Dortmund vs Lazio and a scoreline of 1-1 at 90 minutes into the game. Laying the draw at odds of 1.1 at this point will give us a relatively small liability yet a relatively large win should a late goal be scored by either team in the final few minutes of injury time.

betfair late goals market view

Since we will get around 2 to 5 minutes of injury time in a typical game the key thing to to take note of here is that this is a strategy which will work across multiple games. What this means is that you will need to be comfortable taking multiple (admittedly small) losses before you finally do see that late goal, if you were getting a lay bet in at 1.1 (like in the example above) you would need to see a goal in at least every 9th game to see long term profits!

Over / Under 2.5 Goals

I have titled this strategy as ‘Over / Under 2.5 Goals’ but the theory here will also apply equally as well to any of the other over / under markets (e.g. 0.5, 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 and so on).

There are actually quite a few ways to approach such a strategy, these include laying ‘Over’ and hoping for no more goals or laying ‘Under’ and awaiting 1+ additional goals in the game (or visa versa should you prefer to back first then lay off later on).

What makes over / under strategies slightly more advanced than other strategies (and potentially more profitable) is that they lend themselves towards the ‘profiling’ of a whole game and the bigger rewards which can come with this. For example, if you suspect a game will see multiple goals later on then it could be your strategy to lay under 1.5 at half-time for such games at 0-0 whilst the odds might be very low (so again, low risk and high reward). This differs slightly from simpler strategies such as ‘lay the draw’ which are basically over once a single goal is scored at any point in the game, in the previous example we could await 2 goals and win the bet or optionally trade out for a (potential) profit after a single goal.

This ability to give yourself more options makes the over / under trading strategy a great place to move on to after lay the draw, if you want more risk and potentially bigger or quicker results stick to the lower bands (e.g.0.5, 1.5 etc.) or look at he higher bands for the potential to apply a much safer (but lower yielding) strategy (e.g. laying O4.5 in anticipation of a low scoring game).

Example of an Over / Under 2.5 Goals Trade

To see an example of over / under 2.5 trading lets have a look at the Sivasspor vs Villarreal game. This particular game seemed to be very slow to develop during the early stages so I decided to lay over 2.5 goals at 10 minutes in, this means if the game continues to develop slowly then the odds on over 2.5 goals should start to shot up!

betfair over 2.5 goals trade set-up

With about 15 minutes gone by we can see our prediction was correct, the game didn't develop any further, no further goals were scored in this time and the odds on the over 2.5 goals selection have risen to 3.1 (to back) at the point of the below screenshot. This rise in odds has granted us a profit of 50p in this example (which will go up the longer I wait to take it, assuming there are no more goals).

betfair over 2.5 goals trade in profit

This was just a quick example above, in reality you are usually quite safe trading O/U 2.5 providing you leave some margin for yourself (e.g. when 0-0 the 2.5 bets wont lose until 3 goals are scored). It is also a market which (in my personal experience) is quite easy to keep dipping into and out of during the course of a game and as such a good step up form lay the draw!

Pre-Game Swing Trading

Pre-game trading strategies are usually very low risk, this is due to there often being very little to move the price of any selection prior to the game starting. This also means that the opportunities to trade are limited and usually involve the need to use large amounts of money to make a profit on just a tick or two of the market.

Having said this there can be events and scenarios which can move the prices of a game before it starts, for example, if it is announced a key player will be missing from the game this can then drastically move the odds of the ‘1 x 2’ market (by pre-game standards anyway). Other things such as the ‘weight of money’ coming into the market (or the demand) for a particular team over the opposing team can also cause prices to gradually move over the course of the day running up to the game.

Before looking at an example this is also a good point to state that the misfortunes of a team will do more than just push their match odds for winning out, for example, this could also mean that the odds on scoring (e.g. over 2.5 goals) will move higher and the price on the opposition and / or draw will also move inwards to compensate for the price of the original selection drifting out.

Pre-Game Swing Trading Example

In the below screenshot we can see the Betfair graph for Atletico Madrid in their game against Bayern Munich, this is a screenshot of the Betfair pricing graph taken about 10 minutes before the game started:

betfair pre-game market mover

As can be seen above, Ath Madrid were originally priced up close to 2.5 when the market first opened yet just before kick-off were all the way down at 1.5ish (quite a big move by pre-game standards). I don't want to speculate on this specific game but the point here is we can get reasonable movements in odds without a ball ever being kicked and since there is no live action to change things this is a relatively safe environment to trade within!

In-Play Scalping

Something you will notice as you trade football more is that in-play markets move about a lot (noise as some might refer to it as). In other words, even though the game itself might seem stale the odds for most markets will still move a little bit each way regardless of the boring nature of the game, this is often driven more by the availability of money on the betting exchange, supply and demand as well by certain in-game events such as a corner being taken or a red card being issued.

There are lots of small things happening within a game, both in the game itself (e.g. corners) as well as the supply and demand of odds on the exchange that ultimately cause prices to change by a little bit very rapidly, this can make for a great trading opportunity!

NB – To be clear there could be dozens of small peculiarities within any given football match both on the field and on the exchange which can cause these prices to move, my aim here is not to cover each and every eventuality but just to make clear that this ‘fluctuation’ presents an opportunity!

Now that we know this opportunity exists we can take advantage of it using a trading technique called ‘scalping’, this is basically taking multiple, frequent small trades of only a single tick or two and accumulating a profit over time (each mini trade will of course yield only a small profit by itself).

The key to in-play scalping is often being quick at entering and exiting trades (the use of trading software can help here) and knowing when to get in and how to successfully get out again (again, very much a big advantage to use trading software to help speed up the placing of bets.).

One common technique is to actually place two bets 1 or 2 ticks apart and hope they both get matched (trading software such as Bet Angel is recommended for doing this). You can also enhance this technique slightly further, for example, by looking for lower scoring games and getting in a back bet on a contracting selection and then awaiting a slightly bigger move before putting in your lay bet a few seconds after (but this comes with practice).

Other Football Trading Strategies

So far I have covered some of the most commonly encountered trading strategies, this is by no means an exhaustive list but instead an introduction to more common strategies and how they can be deployed.

Taking things further in football trading (in reality) often means having multiple strategies at your disposal and crucially the knowledge allowing you to deploy the correct strategy at the right time. This can sometimes mean that 2 or more strategies can be combined in certain ways to get the most out of a market. For example, I might be primarily looking to lay the draw but also manage my risk and get the greatest risk / reward ratio whilst I’m at it, as such I might combine a late goals strategy (by seeking relevant games) and then use a lay the draw strategy towards the end of the game (and maybe drip feeding money in) until a goal is scored.

In reality and as you progress with your football trading you should find yourself deploying strategies to take advantage of the market as it stands and not simply pushing on with your ‘favourite’ strategy regardless, even when the conditions aren’t right for it, but this comes with time and practice!

Enhancing Football Trading Strategies with Data

Finally, data is an important consideration when looking for games to trade and is (in my opinion at least) the key in turning an average trader into one who can not only execute the aforementioned football trading strategies but crucially pick the right points in the right games when doing so!

This is also a great point to encourage readers of this article to start thinking more seriously about the underlying data behind a football game when entering and exiting a trade. Many people will look at easily available data including the previous few games played by each team and the position they sit in the league, but for Mr. Average trader it often goes little further than this!

football trading strategies data graph

Unfortunately, I cant give you a magic formula for predicting football games exactly (no one can) but with time and practice (and some good data which you can find on my Free Football Data page) you can learn to profile games and start focusing in on games which you prefer to trade and work with the trading strategies you are developing. For example, you might like to try and determine which games are likely to be lower scoring if deploying an under 2.5 goals strategy in order to minimise risk and get lots of frequent winning trades!

NB - If you are interested in learning more about working with football data and building a professional standard database please be sure to check out my Football Data eBook!

A Final (But Important) Note from James

I have already eluded to this but it is really important to make sure you learn multiple trading strategies, adapt them for you own needs and crucially wait for the right time to apply the right strategy! If a game looks lively think about applying ‘lay the draw’ and if a game looks stale then maybe lay over 2.5 goals instead, don’t try and force a certain strategy just because you like using it!

I also think it is really important to at least try and profile games (both in-play and pre-game) and get use to looking for games which suit your trading style. If you prefer ‘lay the draw’ then look for games which should yield a higher scoreline (but again, don’t try and force your lay the draw trade if the market isn’t right for it).

And finally, even whilst in a learning phase make sure you record all of your trades down on some paper or in a spreadsheet (even if it is just a basic log). This is by far the most boring part of trading but once you accumulate enough data it will do a couple of important things. Firstly it will assure you that you are making money (or not) and secondly it might also highlight which strategies you are good at and which ones clearly aren’t working for you, as such this can then further help you improve by showing you where to focus going forwards!

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