Covering the Spread: Football’s Handicap Kings
Most bettors will know the feeling of looking at a football coupon, spotting a team they fancy to win and then wincing when they see odds of 2/9 staring back at them. It’s going to take a big bet to make a worthy profit. And for most of us with limited budgets, the choice is to stick the team into an accumulator, which will inevitably have one leg letting you down, or to do something more exotic.
The ‘exotic’ part often involves handicap betting, or the spread, if you’re on the US side of the Atlantic. There’s a little more science to it in terms of strategy than match betting, and consulting a handicap betting guide to give yourself a 101 on the subject is the best thing to do before placing a bet or attempting to build a strategy.
League leaders aren’t always good handicap picks
The first mistake punters can make is to assume that just because a team is short-priced to win a game means their likely to win a match by the handicap. For example, let’s take you way back to the 1993/94 Serie A season and look at one of the greatest sides in modern history – Fabio Capello’s AC Milan.
The team, featuring the likes of Baresi, Maldini, Boban, Albertini, Savicevic, Papin and Laudrup, won both the Scudetto and Champions League. A great team, who hammered an equally-sexy Barcelona 4-0 in the Champions League Final and cruised in Serie A, yet they managed to win just five league games (out of 34) by more than a single goal. And none of those games were won by more than two goals. In short, if you kept backing the much-vaunted ‘94 Milan side on the handicap during that season, you’d be a lot poorer by the end of it.
Of course, that’s relatively ancient history. But we still see examples of this today. If you look at Turkey’s Super Lig, for instance. Trabzonspor currently top the table and have gone unbeaten all season. At the time of writing, the team has won games by more than a clear goal just twice. It’s a similar story for La Liga table-toppers Real Sociedad – just two wins that would satisfy a -1 handicap.
Ajax are the epitome of flat track bullies
So, can we find some teams that regularly, as the Americans say, cover the spread? A good place to start is with Ajax Amsterdam. The Dutch side’s league wins this season had the following scorelines: 5-0, 0-5, 2-0, 9-0, 0-5, 3-0, 2-0, and 5-0. In short, every winning game for Ajax has covered the basic -1 handicap, and several have covered -4 handicaps.
If you want to look further afield, what about AL Sadd, leaders of the Qatar Stars League? Every league game bar one (a 3-3 draw with AL Duhail) would cover the -1 handicap. Incidentally, all but one of AL Sadd’s matches would satisfy winning over 3.5 goals match bets, but that’s a story for another day.
Yet, is there a catch? Certainly. Bookies aren’t stupid and they will do their sums correctly. So, the odds for Al Sadd or Ajax to hammer a lower-ranked side are going to be different to those of Trabzonspor or Real Sociedad. Moreover, it’s worth bearing in mind that Ajax, despite being far and above the rest of the Eredivisie, have had some stinkers, losing at home to FC Utrecht and scraping 0-0 draws with Heracles and Go Ahead Eagles, so it’s not as if they are bulldozing every team.
In the end, however, it’s still worth doing your homework to pinpoint those sides that go for the proverbial jugular in games. While the bookies will also be doing the math, they don’t always do so perfectly. And if you look at the stats, you might just be able to see something that smacks of value in the handicap markets. The golden rule, though, is to not just assume that a team on top of the league will deliver the battering you hope for.