The COVID-19 crisis has changed everything, with football certainly no exception. When the English season resumes on Wednesday, there will be two major rule changes that will significantly alter the way the game is played. We’ve been watching closely how they’ve affected Bundesliga teams over the past month, and measuring how they impact the game to try and give us an edge in betting.
Rule change No.1: Fans no longer allowed inside stadiums
This is by far the biggest change to football and the one everyone has been talking about. How will players react to playing in empty stadiums? At first glance there seems to have been a huge effect in the Bundesliga, as pre-crisis home teams were winning 33% of matches, now it’s only 18%.
Diving even deeper, the ratio of home goals to away goals pre-COVID was 1.16 and now it’s 0.68. But the ratio of home shots to away shots has stayed the same at 1.18, whilst the ratio of home shots-on-target to away shots-on-target has fallen from 1.18 to 1.06.
In the Bundesliga 2 it’s a similar story, the home win percentage is down 5% but the ratio of home goals to away goals has increased from 1.2 to 1.37. However, looking at the ratio of home shots to away shots there’s a reduction from 1.2 to 1.0, and the ratio of home shots on target to away shots has also decreased from 1.18 to 1.1.
So the numbers are telling us a slightly mixed story. But on the weight of it, and given we have a much larger sample size of shots we have compared to goals, I’m more inclined to believe home advantage has shortened with crowds not there to cheer their teams on.
A glance at the bets we’ve taken so far suggests punters share this view. Furthermore, they seem to be expecting the least home advantage to come in derbies. This makes sense, as normally you’d have the biggest, loudest crowd of the season, and now you’ve an empty stadium. Plus your opponents don’t have to travel what is sometimes a long and arduous journey – particularly in the current climate.
Given that, I’m tipping up the away team – Liverpool – in the Merseyside derby, and combining with Wolves to win away at West Ham.
On the other hand, there could still some home advantage due to teams being worn out by long journeys. And given the 400+ mile round trips that both Southampton and Manchester United will be making on Friday, fancy Norwich and Spurs both to win at 9/1.
Rule change No.2: The number of substitutions a team can make will increase from 3 to 5 and the number of substitutes allowed on the bench will increase from 7 to 9
This rule was introduced to try and decrease the risk of muscle injuries to players who have spent lockdown without proper physical training or matches to keep them fit. Coaches in the Bundesliga have been using this to full effect: pre-crisis an average game would have 5.8 substitutions, now that’s up to 8.6.
One way this has affected games is there have been more cards shown in the Bundesliga. Because there are more players on the pitch to be booked, and because the players know they will be spending less time on the pitch, the number of cards in the Bundesliga has increased by 12% and the number of cards in the Bundesliga 2 has increased by 3%. Fouls have also increased by 12% and 7% respectively.
Given that, I’m tipping up over 40 booking points in the Manchester City v Arsenal match
… and the Aston Villa v Sheffield United game too
Most of the players who have been substituted have been fast, pacey forwards who are most prone to sustain muscle injuries. That could mean they will be playing less to avoid injury, or possibly because they do pick up a problem.
With Liverpool and Man City certain to secure top-spot and second-place respectively, you’ll likely see them resting their bigger names.
It means the likes of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling could be left to put their feet up for the remaining Premier League matches, with players who rely on speed such as Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford and Adama Traore, having their playing time cut.
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Given these changes, there’s plenty of value to be found in the Top Goal Scorer End Of Season Specials market, and the player who stands out the most for me is Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Since Christmas, he’s scored more goals than any other player (8) and had more xG than any other player (8.94 via understat.com) and only missed 117 minutes of football. He’ll be playing in more games and likely scoring more goals.
Other undervalued players who will play a lot and can score plenty are Heung-min Son, Raul Jimenez and Tammy Abraham.
I’m also rather keen on Harry Maguire to score two or more headers. Given that he’s played every minute of the Premier League so far, centre-backs are rarely substituted, and Man Utd have had so long to practice their set-piece routines since returning to training, I think he’ll get a few big chances with his head before the season finishes.