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Betting Strategy

Which Teams Perform Best In The 2nd Half Of The Season?

Ask any soccer fan if their team improves after Christmas and the answer is usually, "yes". But according to the data, which teams consistently perform better?

Soccer seasons can pass in what feels like the blink of an eye. With the 2018/19 season well under way across Europe, thoughts are already starting to turn to the new year and what lies in wait in the second half of the campaign.

This is obviously hugely important at both ends of league tables. Who will win the title? Which teams will get a spot in Europe? Who will suffer the ignominy of relegation?

The big question is: which teams can deliver in the second half of a season when the pressure is well and truly on? As with all trends in soccer, if bettors can identify these clubs then it may help them to be more successful with their betting selections.

Using data to make your decisions

The data is widely available, at sites such as worldfootball.net, so it’s easy to do some research and see what patterns exist. I’ve compiled the data from Europe’s largest four leagues (England, Germany, Italy and Spain) for the last five full seasons to try establish some trends.

Like any betting system, it’s not flawless. There can be many reasons why teams improve in the second half of the season; they may invest in the squad in January, or a struggling side might change their manager. Successful clubs can decide to focus their energies towards cup competitions if they feel they are in with a realistic chance of winning them.

And of course, there will be teams in between who are marooned in mid-table who complete their remaining match obligations whilst already thinking of their holidays.

But before we get to individual examples, a few observations on the leagues overall. As you would expect, there isn’t a huge amount of difference between how many points the teams collectively amass in the first or second half of the season. However, the trend is swinging towards the first half.

What the numbers tell us

In 2014/15, all four leagues in this study saw more points won in the second half of the campaign. That dropped to two from four in each of the two subsequent seasons, before 2017/18 only saw the Bundesliga total more points after the halfway stage.

Of the 20 seasons studied here, only eight saw the eventual champions earn more points in the second half of the season.

Some league leaders can be so far clear that they ease up towards the end of their victory lap.

The lowest proportion of points won by a champion after the halfway point was Bayern Munich in 2014/15, as they amassed 57% of their final tally in the first half of the campaign. However, the fact they were already 11 points clear at the midway stage no doubt played a part in that.

It’s interesting that if we look at the collective form of the teams who finish between second and fourth, where you would anticipate there being more competition than when looking at a runaway leader, the figures don’t change much. Nine of the collective trios earned more points in the second half of the season, with the Premier League’s second, third and fourth sides having a 50-50 split in 2014/15.

Which teams perform best after Christmas

While the trends provide some insight, from a betting perspective we are more interested in which teams do or don’t improve after the halfway point. On the whole, it’s the struggling teams who make the greatest degree of improvement. This makes sense, as it’s easier to win more points when you didn’t have many to start with.

Of the 390 team seasons in this study, the greatest proportion of points won in the second half of the season was 81%, by Benevento Calcio in 2017/18. However, they still only picked up 21 points in total and finished bottom of Serie A.

At the opposite end of the scale, Cordoba found themselves 14th with 18 points at the halfway point of the 2014/15 La Liga season. Sadly for them, they won just two points thereafter and finished bottom.

These are the extremes, but who are the teams you can rely on? Who repeatedly performs better in one half of a season? There are 51 teams in the study who have remained in their country’s top flight consistently from 2013/14 to 2017/18.

Of those, one has improved in the second half of the season every time, and one has got worse. They’re both German; any ideas who they are? I’m sure fans of the respective clubs know.

Look to the Bundesliga

Werder Bremen are the only team who have improved after the midway mark in each of the last five seasons. This is particularly fascinating in light of their strong start to 2018/19. They’ve not had more than 19 points at the previous five winter breaks, yet they have 17 after just ten games this season. Can they still improve when beginning the second half of a season from a higher starting point?

After 10 games in 2018/19, Hertha Berlin are just one point behind Werder Bremen. Unfortunately for them, they are the only side who have declined after the halfway point in each of the last five years. It will be interesting to revisit this article in May and see where they have finished in the table.

Bremen and Hertha may be the extremes, but there are other sides who are relatively consistent in this field. Here’s a table of the 12 sides to feature in a top division in at least four of the last five seasons, and who have improved in the second half of at least three quarters of them.

Team Seasons 2nd Half Improvements Share Of Points in 2nd Half
Werder Bremen 5 5 60.40%
Levante UD 4 4 56.40%
Crystal Palace 5 4 55.90%
VfB Stuttgart 4 3 55.30%
Borussia Dortmund 5 4 54.50%
SC Freiburg 4 3 53.90%
Leicester City 4 3 53.50%
Tottenham Hotspur 5 4 52.70%
Real Betis 4 3 52.70%
1. FSV Mainz 05 5 4 51.90%
West Ham United 5 4 51.70%
Espanyol 5 4 51.50%

It’s not just smaller teams who start slowly and improve; Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund are Champions League regulars, and still find time to get better as a campaign progresses. In their one season each where they didn’t improve after halfway, Spurs equalled their first half total while Dortmund were only one point worse.

These are very consistent teams, who you can rely on to maintain their performance and usually get better later in a season.

The table of teams who pick up fewer points in the second half of a season is slightly larger, and features more big names too.

Team Seasons 2nd Half Improvements Share Of Points in 2nd Half
Hertha BSC 5 0 39.40%
SD Eibar 4 1 39.90%
Udinese Calcio 5 1 42.60%
Deportivo La Coruña 4 1 44.40%
Hannover 96 4 1 44.80%
Villarreal CF 5 1 45.30%
Bologna FC 4 1 45.70%
Inter 5 1 45.90%
Sevilla FC 5 1 47.40%
VfL Wolfsburg 5 1 47.50%
Manchester City 5 1 47.70%
Bayern München 5 1 47.80%
Arsenal FC 5 1 48.20%
Atlético Madrid 5 1 48.70%
Manchester United 5 1 49.10%
SSC Napoli 5 1 49.50%

In England, the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham will all be heartened to see that the other half of the big six tend to drop off after Christmas most years. Napoli’s form in this field has proved damaging to them; in two of the last three seasons they have been ahead of Juventus after 19 games, but the ‘Old Lady’ has roared back to claim the title.

While there are always exceptions to every rule, there’s certainly batches of teams who usually tend to do better in one half of the season over the other. Keep that in mind when making your bets for the second half of 2018/19.

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