Euro absence will boost Liverpool's top-four chances
Tips & advice from the betting industry insider
Mercifully, after a spell of midweeks spent twiddling our thumbs, European club competition has returned. The group stages can get a bit repetitive, often feeling like we see the same huge teams bashing the same smaller ones year after year.
But once the knockout rounds arrive the Champions League really is the best competition in the world, while the latter stages of the once-maligned Europa League also get very tasty, with a place in next year’s Champions League at stake.
All clubs want to be involved in these competitions. However you feel about it, in England the race for the top four and a Champions League berth is now more important than either of the domestic cup competitions. The financial implications of qualifying for the Champions League are huge - and without it, attracting the players needed to mount a future title challenge is much more difficult.
There’s a negative to being in the thick of European competition, however. All those extra games take their toll. If you play a big game in Europe on a Thursday night, your chance of winning in the league the following Sunday is undoubtedly affected.
But by how much?
The answer to that depends on an assortment of factors. Was the midweek game at home, meaning no travelling after the game? If it was away how far was the journey? A flight home from France is a lot less taxing than one from Kazakhstan.
Is the weekend game also at home? If you’re Southampton and you only get back from a long Europa League trip on a Friday morning to find you’re away at Sunderland at lunchtime on Sunday, how much preparation time do you really have for that game? Not just physically, but mentally? How much do you study Sunderland’s set-pieces when you have 48 hours compared to when you have a full week to prepare, for example?
How many of the first team played in the European game? In the group stage of the Europa League top clubs will often elect not to send a full-strength side to away games and allow those players to have something much more in keeping with a normal week.
The answers to these questions will dictate how much less of a chance a team will have for the weekend game than they would have ordinarily.
My research suggests a team’s chance the weekend after a European game, against a team who have rested all week, reduces from normal by anything from one-twentieth to one-quarter of a goal, depending on the variables above.
How much of a difference is that in price terms? Well, if a team that would usually be evens to win a match in normal circumstances are perceived to have one quarter of a goal less chance as a result of their European excursions, their price would be around the 13-10 mark.
In percentage terms, what was a 50 per cent chance of winning becomes a 43.5 per cent chance. That's 6.5 per cent less chance of winning that weekend Premier League match because of midweek involvement in European competition.
Of course, teams can, and frequently do, still win at the weekend after European games. But for a team who have a sustained run in European competition and reach the latter stages, over the course of a season all of those slightly reduced win chances in subsequent games add up, and often take their toll.
With Chelsea now apparently away and gone in the title race we have a five-way battle for the three remaining coveted Champions League places.
Liverpool fans, I’m sure, looked on at their rivals playing in Europe this week with some envy. A club of their size should be competing in Europe every season.
But I strongly believe not enough has been made of the advantage Liverpool will enjoy in that upcoming battle, being the only one of the five who will play no European football this spring.
Come May, if Liverpool have squeezed into the top four by a point or two, it may well be wise to assume that it was the lack of European football this season that swung it.
The league table lies
Remaining on the subject of European competition, it’s quite possible you didn’t see Benfica v Dortmund on Tuesday night, because it took place at the same time as Paris St-Germain ripping Barcelona to shreds.
If you did miss that game, your probable takeaway from seeing that Benfica won 1-0 is likely to have been that it was yet another inconsistent Dortmund result in what has become a season of frustration.
But once again for Dortmund, that masks the full story of the game. They were far superior over the 90 minutes, Benfica scoring from their only shot on target with Dortmund fluffing all five of theirs, as well as missing a penalty.
It summed up the run that Dortmund have been on, but in the main they’re playing well and despite being fourth in the Bundesliga they should still be regarded as its second-best team.
I believe they’re still favourites to qualify from the tie and indeed are still value for the whole tournament.
Liverpool to finish in the top four
1pt 8-11 general
Dortmund to qualify v Benfica
2pts Evs Paddy Power
Dortmund to win the Champions League
1pt each-way 16-1 general