Football Assist Betting: Paddy’s guide to making the most of the assists markets

Our man Andrew Beasley guides you through the under-appreciated world of the football assist.


One of the great selling points of football is that goals are so rare. With an average of fewer than three per game, every time the ball finds the net it is significant. It’s not like basketball where a game ends 102-97, or whatever.

But if you think goals are rare, just consider the plight of the lesser-spotted assist. Erling Haaland set the record for goals in a Premier League season by scoring 36 times in 2022/23, yet the most assists anyone has provided in a single campaign is 20.

Thierry Henry was the first to hit that mark, in 2002/03, before Kevin De Bruyne matched him 17 years later. There have been just two instances in over 30 years of a player getting 20 assists when there have only been three seasons in which the Golden Boot winner(s) didn’t score at least that many goals.

But what even is an assist? In simple terms, it’s a pass to a player who scores a goal. However, it gets a bit more complicated than that around here.

This is definitely a market for which a quick perusal of Paddy’s betting rules is vital before placing a bet. Let’s have a look at the different ways in which a player can be credited for an assist (defined next to the bullet points below) and how they can influence our selections.

Traditional assists

  • An assist is defined by the final touch (pass, pass-come-shot or any other touch) leading to the recipient of the ball scoring a goal.

These are the standard assists you’ll see awarded to players by Opta. The obvious starting point is to look for the players who create the most chances, though the quality of the opportunities they provide is relevant too.

For instance, Kieran Trippier was second in the 2022/23 Premier League for chances created, with 110. However, they were collectively worth 12.4 expected assists (xA), when De Bruyne generated an extra 1.3 xA from 14 fewer chances created.

The Manchester City man was providing higher value chances, which helps explain why he got 16 assists when Trippier only recorded seven.

The other key factor here is the finishing ability of the player taking the subsequent shot – Haaland was more likely to convert a chance than, say, Callum Wilson or Alexander Isak were for Newcastle. The Norwegian was likelier to score than anyone, to be honest, but we need Magpies to prove our Trippier point.

Finishing is hugely relevant in this market. After matchweek 29 last season, Trent Alexander-Arnold had provided 6.4 expected assists but only had two actual ones. That gap narrowed as he had a strong end to 2022/23 but the finishing woes of Darwin Nunez meant the England international got fewer assists than he deserved.

Alexander-Arnold remains a strong pick in the Player Anytime Assist market but he shows how successful bets can often be beyond the control of the creative player you select.

It’s also worth noting the next part of the betting rules too. “If the final touch (as defined above) is deflected by an opposition player, the initiator is only given an assist if the receiving player was the likely intended destination of the touch before the deflection.” Your bet could rest in the hands of a nerd at Opta, so don’t steal their lunch money if you happen to bump into one.

Rebound assists

  • If a shot on goal is blocked by an opposition player, is saved by a goalkeeper or hits the woodwork, and a goal is scored directly from the rebound, then an assist is awarded.

These are obviously harder to predict than traditional assists, though Manchester City’s 7-0 thumping of RB Leipzig in the 2022/23 Champions League provides a good case study.

Haaland scored five goals that night. After bagging his first from the penalty spot, his next four were all scored without traditional assists but would meet the criteria in the above rule.

The quartet were set up via the following rebounds: De Bruyne hitting the woodwork, Ruben Dias having a shot blocked on the line and Manuel Akanji having two shots saved. The midfielder is an obvious choice in the assist market, the defenders far less so.

But this shows how players can pick up assists. It makes sense to select players who take a lot of shots as well as creating a lot of chances.

For instance, Trippier averaged 3.0 chances created per 90 minutes last season but only 0.4 shots. James Maddison might have been 0.5 behind the Newcastle man for setting up teammates but he was 2.7 ahead in the shots column. And in the world of betting on assists, that counts for a lot.

Own goal assists

  • If a player shoots or passes the ball and forces an opposing player to put the ball in their own net (Own Goal), then an assist is awarded to the attacking player.

As only around 3.5 per cent of goals are deemed to be own goals by Opta and the Premier League’s Goal Accreditation Panel, assisting one is nigh-on impossible to forecast.

But as well as players who create and shoot plenty, those who fire in lots of crosses can benefit here, as those deliveries can be ripe for deflection by hapless defenders and goalkeepers.

Everton’s Dwight McNeil is a good example. He attempted the 10th most crosses in the 2022/23 Premier League, though he was joint-64th for assists, with three. However, in the Blues’ inexplicable 5-1 victory at Brighton, one of his crosses went in via goalie Jason Steele. It’s not an assist in the official records but it was as far as Paddy is concerned.

Penalties and free-kicks

  • For a penalty or a free-kick, the player winning the penalty or free-kick (by being fouled or causing a handball) is awarded an assist if a goal is directly scored, but not if they take it themselves, in which case no assist is awarded.

McNeil got in on the act in our final category too, as he was fouled for the penalty from which Demarai Gray scored when Everton drew 2-2 at Nottingham Forest in March 2023.

Goals from direct free-kicks are rare – there’s fewer than 20 a season – so we can ignore them in terms of looking at who might collect an assist by being fouled for one.

Data for winning penalties is available though. Since the beginning of 2017/18, Raheem Sterling is top of the chart, with 15 spot kicks won, ahead of Wilfried Zaha (14), Jamie Vardy (13) and Mohamed Salah (11). Some won’t be eligible per the above rule as they will have taken the penalty but they’re worth monitoring.

And if you look at traditional assists for those players over the last six seasons, their totals read 36, 16, 25 and 58 respectively. There’s more than one way to assist a goal and Zaha shows that it’s worth seriously considering all the methods detailed above before placing your bet.


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