SBC News - February 2017

Slow Death of the FA Cup

Jeevan Jeyaratnam, a partner at Super Soccer Oddsfeed, says he is concerned by the approach of the biggest clubs to the FA Cup, the world’s oldest cup competition.

There were a number of high profile ‘shocks’ in last weekend’s FA Cup 4th round. Is this just the ‘magic’ of the FA Cup, where the unlikely becomes more likely due to the passion and history of the world’s oldest cup competition, or is it something rather more opaque…

Closer examination brings into question the use of the word ‘shock’, for many of the favoured, stronger, sides fielded noticeably weaker starting XI’s than usual.

The thirteen Premier League clubs made an average of 7.50 changes per team from their previous line-ups. By way of comparison, Premier League sides have made an average of 2.06 changes from one fixture to the next so far this season.

The top championship sides also made a raft of changes, with Leeds making ten, while both Brighton and Newcastle made nine. All three championship teams lost to lower ranker opposition. Liverpool, Watford and Hull were other losing favourites.

The problem lies not just with the managers, but perhaps with the fixture list itself. There is a heavy mid-week Premier League and Championship programme following hot on the heels of the 4th round. With no winter break to rest players, allied to the loss of stars to the African Cup of Nations, squads have been stretched. Personally I feel that there is just too much football in the UK; the 24 team Championship division features more games than any of the other European leagues.

The recently agreed Premier League TV deal means that promotion to the Premier League is such a valuable prize that it forces a huge pressure on those sides who have a chance of winning promotion; who can blame the Championship clubs for making wholesale changes. The total prize purse is ‘just’ £3.4 million for a club progressing from entry at the 3rd round to winning the competition.

This has devalued the competition greatly, no wonder it’s taken lightly by managers. A cursory glance at the forecasted Premier League prize fund breakdown for season 2016-2017 shows that even the bottom placed side will collect circa £98 million. There just isn’t a comparison when it comes to importance. Money has taken over.

At Super Soccer Oddsfeed, we’re very experienced in dealing with weakened line-ups to provide accurate goalscoring pricing, especially since the League Cup has been like this for years. That said, it still takes some thinking about, and even then there isn’t a guarantee that all bases are covered.

For example, Man Utd introduced Axel Tuanzebe in their 4-0 win over Wigan. He is a product of their youth system, he’s played 14 times in the Premier League 2 at centre-back, scoring once, but not featured for the first team.

Although he was in our database, he wasn’t on the radar as likely to make the step up this early in his development. Youth team players slipping through the net are a relatively small issue; most punters wouldn’t be aware of them, and a young defender like Tuanzebe isn’t likely to feature very highly on many punters’ lists of viable goalscorers.

A far bigger matter is making sure we don’t leave ourselves exposed when high profile goalscorers are left out. Diego Costa, for example, is by far Chelsea’s most likely scorer in the Premier League. We have to approach the pricing slightly differently for domestic cup games as he is unlikely (but crucially, not ruled out) to start.

Michy Batshuayi, normally a substitute in the league, suddenly becomes more likely to start, and therefore score. While we must always price players as if they were starting, naturally we do take into account the most likely starting XI and taper other players accordingly. For an FA Cup tie, the ‘gap’ between our ratings of Costa and Batshuayi is reduced.


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