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02/11/2007 No.5
rendspotting Football
Kevin Pullein
Friday November 2, 2007

The best bets on penalties in football matches are those on one not being awarded. This is not altogether surprising: in almost every market, the better-value bets available are those on things not happening.

The top teams inevitably tend to earn most of the penalties that are awarded, not because referees are biased toward them, as is sometimes alleged, but simply because they are the better teams. In any match, the stronger side are likely to get the ball into the penalty area more often than their weaker opponents.

This is borne out by the fact that there is an almost exact relationship between the number of goals that teams score and concede and the number of penalties they get and give away. It applies equally to everyone, good and bad teams. During the past four seasons, the so-called big four - Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United - scored 69% of the goals in their Premier League games. In the same period, they won 69% of the penalties that were awarded.

The prospect of any penalty being awarded in the first place, however, does not vary much from match to match. It is not even influenced by the importance of the occasion, which may surprise some people. The likelihood of a penalty being awarded during one of the highest- profile games of all - when one of the leading four teams play each other, as Arsenal and Manchester United do at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow - is the same as in any other Premier League fixture, around 21%.

Bettors are unlikely to find a bookmaker willing to offer better than 5-2, which is obviously very bad value. The proportion of penalties converted, incidentally, is around 78%, and varies only slightly with the calibre of the participating teams.

The only major bookmaker currently betting on penalties not being awarded is the spread firm Sporting Index, which has a market for televised games in which 25 points are awarded for each penalty scored and ten for each penalty saved. The average make-up in Premier League games during the last four seasons was 5.0. On most occasions, Sporting Index will invite you to sell at 5.0, but sometimes they will bid 5.5, 6.0 or even 6.5. The correct price should rarely be more than 5.0, and probably never higher than 5.5. Kevin Pullein is football tipster for the Racing Post
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