The English football season is, roughly, at its halfway mark, and already we can formulate some rather strong ideas as to who will be celebrating at the end of the campaign and who will be in the doldrums.
Of course, not all matters are as straightforward as that, and for many teams in England’s top four divisions the ship can still be steered upwards or downwards at some pace.
We like the outright markets as they offer a greater margin for error. To stay up, for example, in the Premier League a team must simply finish in the top 17/20 – a huge percentage. To finish in the top half of the Championship, League 1 or League 2, a side must find themselves nestled in the top 12 – a feat that many can still mathematically achieve.
Using Expected Goals (xG) data as our guide, here’s a quartet of picks that could yield fine returns in 2018.
English Premier League
West Brom to Stay Up (6/5)
The image below is a snapshot of the Expected Goals data for the last 12 rounds of Premier League matches. On the left-hand side is the home data, on the right is the away and on the far right the xGDiff for home and away combined:
Premier League Expected Goals (xG) – Last 12 Games
The three teams denoted in red is the bottom three as it stands as far as Expected Goals is concerned – Swansea, Stoke and Newcastle, and look at their xGDiff figures compared to that of West Brom.
The Baggies have improved under Alan Pardew, taking points off Liverpool and Arsenal, and as soon as they get that one win it would be easy to see them pull away from the dropzone.
Away trips to Chelsea and Manchester City notwithstanding, West Brom’s fixture list looks agreeable with home dates against Brighton, Southampton and Huddersfield in the next month all distinctly winnable.
Odds against prices are widely available with a number of bookmakers, and that is fine value for a team to stay up that is performing better than their results might suggest.
Top Half Finish – Millwall (4/1)
Strong home form is the foundation of any good season, and in the Championship only a few sides can boast a record as effective as Millwall’s in front of their own supporters.
A return of W7 D3 L3 offers an insight into their form at the New Den, and inversely tells us that their away form of W0 D6 L7 is hopelessly below par.
But if they can turn a few of those away draws into wins, the Lions will surely roar their way up the table. They are currently six points off the top 12, and at the price they are outstanding value to breach the upper reaches of the second tier.
English League 1
Top Half Finish – Blackpool (9/4)
Just ten points separates Oxford in tenth and Oldham in twentieth in League 1, and that offers some insight into how congested the middle reaches of the division are.
Almost equidistant between the two are Blackpool, who sit comfortably in fourteenth with 32 points; just two behind current mid-table side Plymouth.
The Expected Goals data has the Tangerines in eighth, which suggests they have plenty of scope to move up the table, and so odds of 9/4 on them to secure a top 12 finish seem more than fair.
The fact they have won just one of their last ten games is a concern, but the upside of when they do rediscover their form is that those odds will look incredibly generous.
English League 2
Top Half Finish – Cheltenham 13/8
Cheltenham are just three points off a top-half finish; not bad for a side that won just one of their opening seven games!
Their form since September 16 reads W8 D6 L6, which is an average points per match accumulation of 1.50. If they had started the campaign in such fashion, they would now be comfortably ensconced in the top half.
Once again, it would appear that the bookmakers are undervaluing a runner in this Top Half Finish market.