Though it’s the goals and mesmerising attacking moves that linger for years after international tournaments, the truth of what wins knockout games is a lot less sexy. There’s nothing more important than defense. When you look at all winning sides of the World Cup and European championships from 2002 to 2016, they only conceded five goals in 29 matches in total.
And those were only single goals per match. It’s astonishing that in 24 knockout games they managed to keep clean sheets. Even more impressive is that Greece and Spain played the knockout stages without conceding a single goal on their way to winning the trophy. Statistical data, like that which is freely available, is an important edge when it comes to winning bets so let’s take a look at the different factors that can affect a team’s defensive performance.
Why is defense important in soccer?
If one team is in possession of the ball, the other team can’t score. It sounds obvious but the most skillful teams will recycle their attacking moves into defense if they can’t find a clear attacking channel. The speed in which a team can move from defense into attack is what can turn a game, especially in knockout stages of tournaments.
An organised and calm defensive line is one of the most important edges a team can have when the stakes are high. All but the best attackers need space to dribble the ball forward. The closer they can get to the goal, the more likely they are to score. Therefore being able to close down space and block the advance of attacking players is one of the most important aspects of defense in soccer.
Why does play stop?
If a team can successfully defend attacks without being penalised by the referee, the likelihood of them maintaining a clean sheet is vastly improved. Fouls around the 18 yard box make the goalkeeper vulnerable to dead-ball specialists and can interrupt the flow of the side. Unless the ball went out of play, stopping play was at the sole discretion of the referee. Players could conceivably foul other players or even stop the ball with their hand. As long as the referee or the linesman didn’t spot it, they could get away with it. To combat this, Video Assistant Referees or (VAR) have been brought in to high profile matches.
Most people will see them in action for the first time in the 2018 World Cup. It’s one of the biggest changes to soccer in recent years. Looking at the World Cup, the VAR’s role is to identify any game-changing incident that the on-field referee may have missed. If a goal, penalty decision or red card foul may have occurred, the referee can ask for VAR assistance or the VAR may recommend an incident is reviewed. Therefore teams which rely on defenders who play on the edge of legality may lose their advantage in games.
What is offside in soccer?
An attacker is in an offside position if he receives the ball when there is no defender between him and the goalkeeper. The best defensive teams will use this to their advantage and try to trap opposition attackers by moving forward when passes are made or by defending high up the pitch.
These are risky strategies though as each player needs to communicate effectively with their teammates to avoid being left wrongfooted by more alert strikers. In knockout matches, this style of aggressive defending is seen less often as defensive teams concede territory to their opposition in order to keep bodies back and counter-attack. They will play by filling the space around their goal so that attackers can’t score as easily.
Analysing betting with data
Any information that can point towards a result is useful for bettors. An aggregate of defensive performances over a period of time can give you an idea of defensive strength. With this knowledge you could calculate the likelihood of a team conceding and therefore if you can find value for a market to reflect that.
Bitcoin betting markets
So now you’re able to analyse how teams defend in soccer, you’ll likely want to explore your betting options outside of win, lose or draw. Cloudbet offers a range of markets in soccer games before the match starts and in-play. So if you’re following a team that’s more defensively minded, you might look at the number of yellow cards for that team. A team that concedes territory in favour of last-ditch defending might take the ball out of play more often, therefore Total Corners might offer the best value.