To Trade or Not To Trade? That Is The Question:

Arnie to be or not to be.jpg

How Long After A New Season Starts Should I Wait To Trade?

The question of when to trade after a new season start’s is an intriguing one; I’m talking about the English football season, but really I could be talking about any sport, or at least any team sport, they are all played in seasons therefore they all have off-seasons.

Individual sports like Tennis and Golf also have seasons, but I'm sure a professional player if they so wished could play tennis or golf all year round if they were willing to circumnavigate the globe without rest on an annual basis.

  A Knackered Nadal

A Knackered Nadal

When you trade on a sport after an off-season you have so many variables to consider, here are a few;

What position did a given team finish last season?
Did the team in question get promoted or relegated from their league?
Has the league got any stronger or weaker?
Will the addition/subtraction of players make a difference to how that team performs?

And the biggest question of all;

Is that team going to perform like they did last season?

Ultimately I think it’s impossible to answer the last three questions without seeing at least five of their games first, you can answer the first two, but will the answers to those questions help you trade right at the start of the season?

Ultimately I think if you are to be a successful trader on Betfair, then it’s the ‘folds’ that will do it for you, that is to say the amount of times you walk away from losing trades can potentially save you more money than the amount of winning ones you’re involved in, so my philosophy at the beginning of the season is not to trade until I have seen some kind of form from someone.

That for me is the ultimate start of season strategy and if you couple this with playing one of the leagues that finish in the autumn/winter then you don’t even have to break in your trading. 

What I used to do was not touch my Betfair account until ten games into the season, it tended to be the lower leagues because they kick off a few weeks before the Premiership; what I would do until then is that I’d satisfy my urge to bet by visiting the high street bookies,  placing down various accumulators or accas as they’re known.

Then after ten games I could see if there were any definite patterns developing and then make my trading decisions based on those patterns.

The only thing that was wrong with this approach is the part where I threw away money on stupid bets that had tiny percentage chances, (which weren't matched by the odds I received) of coming in.

Ten games is enough time to iron out any flukes or anomalous results and show you true form.

But what if you’re not trading on the Russian football league or some other sport entirely in those early months; how will you tide yourself over? What should you do if you want to trade the early season?

Well if you insist on trading at the start of  the season I suggest using the first four questions to try and answer the last one; the only one that really matters with early season trading and that is;

Will they perform like they did at the end of last season?

So here are the questions again:

What position did a given team finish last season and what was their end of season form?

Did the team in question get promoted or relegated from their league?

Has the league got any stronger or weaker?

Will the addition/subtraction of players make a difference to how that team performs?

This as you’d imagine isn't an exact science but that’s the peril of betting on the season early, so you've just got to use any information you have.

Look at how a particular team finished and how they finished, so for instance let’s take Newcastle United Football Club. In the 2013/14 season Newcastle had a promising start to the season in their first ten games they won 4, drew 2 and lost 4 which included a 2-0 victory against Chelsea and they managed to score 14 goals.

They ended up exactly half way up (or down if you’re a pessimist) the table in 10th place. However on March 22nd after a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace, which secured their safety in the Premiership giving them a total of 42 points, they switched off and mentally went on their holidays, they managed to win just one of their subsequent 8 games, which happened to be their last home game of the season.

  After their 1-0 win over Palace Newcastle effectively went on holiday

After their 1-0 win over Palace Newcastle effectively went on holiday

So let’s look at the beginning of the 2014/15 season with of course the benefit of hindsight, let’s see if there were any clues as to how Newcastle’s season might start.

Well as I mentioned they finished 10th and finished very poorly taking 3 out of a possible 24 points in their last eight games, on closer inspection we see that their last away win was on March 1st against Hull City a team that finished 2 places above the relegation zone.

  Newcastle couldn't even muster a draw in their last 5 away games and only scored once.

Newcastle couldn't even muster a draw in their last 5 away games and only scored once.

So what can we extrapolate from that data?

Well we see that after they achieved Premiership safety they only won one game in the next month and a half, with the quality of their play dropping off sharply. So we can safely assume that not getting relegated was their pre season target.

We can also see that the last away game they won, was two and a half months before the end of the season, just under 11 weeks, that’s a long time to go without an away win and such a long poor run can have a negative effect on players.

Finally we can see that their side is smaller and arguably weaker after getting rid of more players than they bought, with one of those players being a key defender; Mathieu Debuchy going to Arsenal, who finished the season 4th so we’re expecting them to be weaker defensively.

So if I was an alien who had come to earth to trade in the English Premier League, after first lumping on Arsenal coming 4th, I might then have looked at these stats and decided that Newcastle would be a good team to trade on, as it was very likely that they would start the season off in a similar or even worse vein to how they ended the previous one.
So my decision on them would be to lay them unless they came up against a newly promoted side that I couldn't properly assess as they were playing in a different league last season.

So using that tactic I would have laid Newcastle for the first seven games of the season and then stayed away for the eighth when they played newly promoted Leicester City.

Newcastle’s record for those first 7 games was P7 W0 D4 L3, they won their eighth game against Leicester, so I would have been quids in by extrapolating from the data of last season, not bad, but is that an extreme case? Can we expect to find other gems like that?

  Newcastle failed to win any of their first 7 games and went at least a goal behind in each of those games. Lay Country!

Newcastle failed to win any of their first 7 games and went at least a goal behind in each of those games. Lay Country!

Newcastle was a perfect storm, but I think using those criteria for assessing what a team’s going to do at the start of the season, will stand you in good stead.

For instance if we take Aston Villa, they had a similar end to the season, after beating Chelsea 1-0 on March 15th, they then went on to get one win and one draw from their last 9 games.

However they managed to keep hold of their key players and unlike Newcastle, Villa’s loan and transfer lists in and out look fairly balanced.

Villa actually won their first game of the season against Arsenal and won 3 of their first 4, but then lost 6 in a row, so not as cut and dry as Newcastle, but they hadn’t sold a key defender, which obviously makes a big difference to any team let alone one that flirt’s with relegation on a season to season basis.

So in answer to the question;

Does end of season form correlate to early season form the next year?

The answer, rather annoyingly is not necessarily, but it’s all you've got to go on, so it’s a case of assessing if the team has strengthened or weakened and doing the same assessment for the teams playing against them.

Did the team in question get promoted or relegated from their league?

Obviously this is an easy question to answer, but the point is how does this statistic affect a team and should you trade on a newly relegated or promoted team?

I have traded on newly promoted teams in the past, but I have waited at least one game, the reason being, unlike an established Premiership team the first game can so often shape the promoted team’s season.

I remember way back when, when Arsenal would kick off the season genuine title contenders (sigh) and Wigan Athletic had been promoted that year and played Chelsea in their first game.

They lost to a cruel last minute against-the-run-of-play goal, but the point was to all observers they played magnificently and were most undeserved losers. You could quite literally see the confidence oozing out of them as they walked off that pitch and you knew you’d be  all right trading them.

The market was slow to react that year and there were juicy odds to have for the first third of the season or so. Wigan ended up in Europe that year and I believe they went down the next season.

The point is, when players have been playing in the Championship there must be a niggle of doubt, a voice somewhere in their subconscious that say’s “Maybe you’re not good enough; maybe this is one step too far, it is the Premiership after all.”

But I accept that you just can’t resist and want to have a bit of fun on the first day of the season; but how do you work out if they’re worth betting on?

After all we've all seen a team take the Championship by storm only to be relegated the next season from the Premiership. Or conversely a team that won a play-off final at Wembley by the skin of their teeth end up more than half way up the table in their first Premiership season.

So are there contributing factors to a newly promoted team’s performance? 

Let’s look at some possible ones below.

How did they come up?

Whilst I'm not au fait with the rules for every league of every team sport in the world, I'm fairly sure most, if not all will have automatic promotion and promotion play-offs. So will that make a difference to how they perform three months later when they start their new season in their new league?

Let us take recent examples; first up the 2013/14 League Champions of the English Championship, Leicester City.

Leicester won the Championship at a canter they scored 102 points, scored 83 goals (only Derby County scored more 84) and won 6 out of their last 8 games, in other words they ended up on fire!

You’ll see from below that their activity in the transfer market was good, notably bringing in Premiership experience in the form of Albrighton, Huth, Schwarzer and Mathew Upson and getting Esteban Cambiasso from Inter Milan was clearly a coup for little old Leicester.

Again with the benefit of hindsight we see that laying Leicester’s first five opponents who would have all been odds on, would have been pretty good business (even Chelsea as the game was 0-0 for 63 minutes). So perhaps winning the Championship convincingly and keeping key players whilst strengthening is a key indicator to early season form.

  Leicester;'s early season form did not continue.

Leicester;'s early season form did not continue.

I say could be, because as I said I believe that if the team that romped home in the Championship get's spanked on the first day, then strengthened or not, there are very few newly promoted teams who will go on to have a cracking season.

Has the league got any stronger or weaker?

This question could almost be a philisophical question, and quite hard to measure, but I do think it makes a difference on certain teams, namely those likely to finish at the bottom and those who are in with a shout of winning it.

It’s a tough question to answer before a single ball has been kicked, but it’s worth considering it.

All I’ll really say on this is if you feel after looking at the signings of the top six clubs that only the top one or two look that much stronger, then you’d have to say the league has stayed the same or got weaker, especially if they’ve lost top players to foreign clubs.

Obviously if the reverse is true, then you may say the league has got stronger, whether stronger or weaker, the potential profits or losses will come in the games when teams who perhaps only finished 16th the season before but have strengthened in the summer, comes up against a top 6 side who haven’t or have got weaker.

Verdict: This is not an exact science and should not be taken as a key indicator of form.

Will the addition/subtraction of players make a difference to how that team performs?

We have kind of covered this already above in the Leicester City example, but let’s look in a little more depth; lets look at the different types of ways that a club may add players to its lineup.

Adding too many players:

This for me can be a good indicator for things going awry for a team at the start of the season. Recent examples are Tottenham buying 8 players when they lost Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for a record £86 million pounds and Liverpool when they bought a similar amount of players after losing Luis Suarez to Barcelona.

Aha! But you’re just using hindsight again! I hear you cry, no my friend, I’m not, in both the above scenarios I predicted bad starts for both of those teams and I was right; why?

Because both of those teams did pretty well with the players they had; Liverpool were within a hair’s breadth of winning the league for the first time since it became the Premier League and Spurs ran Arsenal close for 4th spot.

Now it could be argued, that you need 3 people to replace players of the calibre of Bale and Suarez; however when a team is doing well, getting rid of a star player will upset the balance of the team, but not half as much as shipping in a load of players and then trying to intergrate them into a formula that’s almost right.

Not adding enough players.

Take a look at Fulham’s ins and outs the season for the summer of 2014, they were relegated this season and were God-awful, poor Fulham fans had to endure three happless managers in a season that saw them win only 9 times and lose 24, drawing the remaining 5 games, only Cardiff did worse.

Yet their out list is longer than their in list by an order of magnitude and their in-list is hardly chocked full of household names. So perhaps their four straight defeats in the next season, culminating with a 5-1 thumping at Derby was no surprise to the astute trader.

Buying a star player.

I think you might as well read a bunch of tea leaves as opposed to using this as an indicator to form. Some star players will hit the ground running, some won’t, but whether they do or not it won’t necessarily affect form.

Look at Alexis Sanchez and Diego Costa, both star players, both getting off to cracking starts in the Premier League, however Arsenal and Chelsea had very different starts, Arsenal drew a lot of early games when Sanchez had scored what should have been the winning goal.

Chelsea on the other hand were taking full advantage of their star signings and winning games; to be fair Chelsea had bought 2 star players in Fabregas and Costa. But nevertheless, it’s not a great indicator as you have to consider the strength of the rest of the team.

Losing a star player.

On the whole I think losing a star player will affect a bottom half team more than a top half team, purely because top half teams have more money and so as long as they don’t go mad and try and replace the player with 8 new players, they’ll be OK.

However when a team that just managed to stay up thanks to a star player who just gave an edge to all the hard work the rest of the team were doing, loses that player without replacing him, then that is a stronger indicator that the team won’t do so well at the start of the new season.

Because as well as money being the difference between a team finishing near the top as opposed to near the bottom, there is moral to consider. You never want to see your best players leave the club, as a fan, manager or player, especially if everyone can see it is that player that made the difference to you staying up or going down.

Verdict: The addition of players is a good thing if they are made in key positions and not as a knee-jerk reaction or just for the sake of it.

Losing key players tends to affect early season form for bottom half teams more than top half, though whether it’s adding or subtracting it’s not an exact science.


Ideally wait a minimum of five games before trading on a new season.

If you are going to trade earlier than that, try and spot a newly promoted team doing well on the first game, then make your move.

If a team has added too many players as a knee-jerk reaction to losing a player, this is more than likely a bad thing.
If they have sold many more players than they have bought after being relegated, this is a good indicator that early season form may be poor (solidified if they’ve had to keep their beleagured, struggling manager).

What about you guys; what’s your opinion on early season trading? Do you have any tactics? Or do you simply stay away and switch your focus to something else? Maybe, heavens forbid, non Betfair related activity! 

Whatever your tactics are, drop me a comment and let me know and perhaps between us we can come up with the ultimate start-of-season strategy.

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The Zen Trader