Total Goals Trading: One Bettor’s Process

This piece is designed to provide a series of criteria that can be used in combination with computerised models and regular statistics to assist betting selections in the Total Goals market.

I will focus predominantly on Spain’s Primera Division because of lengthy experience of covering this league, but the concept and thinking behind the blog should be transferrable to any league under StrataBet’s umbrella.

In order to keep things simple, when the terms under and over are used, they always refer to a goal line of 2.5. However, much of the analysis herein will cover thought patterns that are applicable to more or less any goal line.

The first step is to categorise all twenty Primera teams as either under or over teams. These are the ones I think most likely to have fewer than three goals or more than three goals in their matches.

The key question when making this selection is: “If this team’s tactical plan goes perfectly, would the end result see over or under 2.5 goals?”

When answering this question, I have considered the objective of each team going into a normal league game, but I have ignored whether that team might be home or away.

Here is my selection, with explanations where necessary:

Primera Div Over

*Valencia are in this list because of my view of their style since Gary Neville was appointed. They currently look like one of the most attack-minded teams in the division and have a weak, error-prone defence.

**I feel I must justify Las Palmas appearing in this list based on their strong unders bias this season. They are here due their recent change of manager, who is less set on playing for clean sheets. Indeed, this is a team that now wants to entertain and score goals.

Primera Div Under

To ensure the best possible chance of winning in this very tricky market, it is important to ask a series of questions about both teams involved in a game you wish to bet over or under on.

These questions should give you a good idea of how a game is going to pan out and help you determine the ideal scenarios for more/fewer goals.

Here are the questions I ask myself, along with a brief description and/or example of why they are important:

Do both teams have a desire to win the game?

On the face of it this looks like a silly question, but often one team will be more than happy to settle for a draw.

If a team begins a game with the aim to keep it at 0-0 for the duration, or even just for as long as possible, it shouldn’t necessarily put you off betting overs. However, ideally if you bet this way you want both sides looking to win the game.

Conversely, if you are on unders then you want both teams to fear losing and in particular to fear conceding the first goal.

Where are the goals coming from?

Matches most likely to have overs are those in which one team that struggles to defend and keep clean sheets faces one that has good finishers.

Teams that defend well, like Atlético Madrid and Villarreal, are typically risky bets to have when betting overs. Both of these teams focus their plan on stopping the opponent and as they are so effective, particularly Atlético, I would usually avoid considering them for overs.

In the Primera Division there are plenty of good finishers, but also lots of players who tend to thrash at chances due to a lack of composure and/or technical ability.

Naturally, the more names you see in a projected or actual starting XI that you feel confident can finish chances, the better you should feel about backing overs. This is especially important when the mutual respect between two teams is high, because often in tightly contested matches the goals come from great finishers

What happens if Team A or Team B scores first?

This is another vital question to assess how a game is likely to pan out. While it relies on a large amount of speculation, in any game you must look at whether you envisage the game being a high or low scoring one.

If Team A scores first are they going to sit back and defend? Indeed, most teams outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid will do this to an extent, but how effective are they with this approach?

Let’s look at Atlético Madrid again. They are an incredibly good team at scoring first and killing the game to win to nil. They are so effective at this I wouldn’t even consider betting overs in any of their games prior to kick off. Villarreal are also strong at protecting a lead and winning to nil.

It’s also important to consider how effective both teams are on the counter-attack here.

If it’s a game where mutual respect is reasonably high but both sides can counter effectively, there is real benefit to overs backers. This is why strong counter-attacking teams like Sevilla and Villarreal, two teams that I deem as unders ones, often have games which ultimately end up having over 2.5 goals.

There is only a small group of clubs who I do not rate as counter-attacking dangers right now: Athletic Club, Getafe and Real Betis. These teams all have little to no pace in their attacks and tend to focus on killing time or keeping possession to protect leads.

How much do the two teams respect each other?

This question is important when considering overs or unders, but if the answer is no for both teams, then it is a big bonus if your model (or your gut instinct!) likes the overs. When there is little-to-no mutual respect between teams, they are likely to attack each other instead of focusing on defending, which is what would be more likely to happen is there was great respect between them.

This can be a great angle to get good value on overs when the smaller clubs play each other.

It clearly does not mean that goals or even an open match is assured, but it is much more likely that the game will open up with the first goal, which will ideally arrive in the first half.

Conversely, if there is a lot of mutual respect between two teams, this should generally deter an overs bet. This also applies when discussing goals during derby matches and specifically those that come in circumstances where neither side wants to lose. Put simply, when the fear of losing outweighs the desire to win it can be a good signal to go with an unders bet.

What does each teams’ immediate schedule look like?

If there is another significant fixture just days after a league game, this can affect the predictability and probability of goals.

The rotation risk is the most obvious factor and will depend upon how the club/manager weighs the following game versus the current one. Even if rotation does not occur there is a danger of a team not wishing to expend too much energy during the ninety minutes, which could negatively impact on goals and favour an unders bet.

As always knowledge is power here, and you can improve your analysis by checking the projected line ups offered by StrataBet’s Previews, both three days and one day before kick-off.

Will one team try to kill the game if they go ahead?

With the exception of Barcelona and Real Madrid (when not playing each other or another top four side), teams in Spain are prone to reducing their attacking output in favour of wasting time, especially in the final games of the season when points really matter.

These tactics are most likely to be employed by teams struggling at the bottom of the table and the main culprits are currently Granada and Real Betis, followed by Deportivo La Coruña, Getafe and Sporting Gijón.

Atlético Madrid and Villarreal are teams who can focus almost exclusively on defending after taking the lead. Athletic Club and Deportivo La Coruña do this as well.

It is important to understand that it is much easier to kill time in Spain because free kicks can be earned with a minimal amount of contact and officials are often slow to recognise various other methods of time wasting.

This is clearly a big negative for overs backers, but a big positive for those on unders. A home team wasting time can often be gold for an unders bettor.

Other Trends

To close I will inform you of some clear patterns and approaches of certain teams that are relevant to the number of goals scored in their matches.


Tactical approaches change dramatically for most Primera clubs when they play at home, compared to when they play on the road.

Indeed, a team who are very bold at home will often set up more conservatively when away, which may favour unders bets in certain circumstances.

Almost all clubs in the division fall into this category, perhaps excluding Barcelona, but the biggest differentials I personally observe are Eibar, Espanyol, Málaga, Sevilla and Sporting Gijón.

The Big Two

In games involving Barcelona and Real Madrid the goal line will normally rise significantly, depending on their opponents and whether they are at home or away.

Both clubs generally seek to win every game comfortably and play an attacking style, but away from home there is always more tendency to tighten up defensively. Barcelona have been particularly effective at doing this away from home. Naturally, opposing teams who can find a way to breach the defences of the big two are great for beating the goal line in an overs bet, rather than relying completely on the favourite to score four or five goals without reply.

Teams that are strong on set pieces or have composure/speed in attack are ideal for getting goals against the big two. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid tend to switch off and leave spaces in defence, particularly in games they know they are likely to win well.

Barcelona and Real Madrid drop their intensity in almost every game they are leading comfortably, which gives the opposition a chance to have periods of attacking and obviously increases the probability for goals.

Pitch Quality

Poor pitches where the ball does not roll predictably can cause problems for attacking football and tend to be bad for overs outcomes. Celta Vigo, Espanyol, Las Palmas and Rayo Vallecano all have below-average/poor pitches where ball movement is less predictable and teams need to work a little harder to create.

Las Palmas’ pitch is easily is the worst in the division and this has clearly affected the number of goals scored at the venue this season to date.

Managerial Change

New managers can bring fairly dramatic changes in levels of commitment, personnel performance and tactics.

At Real Madrid, a team that has now scored eleven goals in two matches under Zinedine Zidane, you can now expect extremely offensive and high scoring matches at home, but a much more controlled approach away.

Seemingly every player (with Gareth Bale a notable exception) has made it known that they prefer Zidane to predecessor Rafa Benitez, which confirms prior suspicions that the players weren’t giving maximum effort under the Spaniard. With that in mind, this is a team who should continue to look better and improve results from the first half of the season. Real Madrid are something of an exception here, because managerial moves tend to favour unders betting initially.

We are likely to see this with Real Betis, the most recent club to change manager (at the time of writing). In the short-term, I would expect them to focus on becoming stronger defensively. As they are already a team who struggle to score goals, they should be even more unders biased while the new manager tries to rebuild confidence with a safety-first approach.

At Las Palmas and Valencia, both clubs are seeing the new managers bring about a much more expansive approach. However, Valencia in particular are paying the price defensively. They were one of the most unders biased sides at the start of the season but with Neville in charge they look very open and happy to take risks, especially when at home.

Despite the aforementioned poor surface in Las Palmas, I would be actively looking to back them on the overs both home and away in the near future. My reasoning here is that there is immediate market value to be had after all but one of their home matches went unders in the first half of the campaign.

In addition to this Las Palmas have generally become much more of an overs side in the small period of time since new manager Quique Setien arrived. One reason for this is that previous manager Paco Herrera was terminated because the fans hated his defensive tactics. So now we have a Las Palmas team with an error-prone defence trying to play open, expansive football. More than most sides in the Primera, they are happy to risk a lot when going behind and as a weaker team they go behind often!

To conclude, I hope that this piece gives an insight into one bettor’s thought process when attacking the Total Goals market in football. As I said in the opening, while everything here has been very Spain-specific, many of these principles should apply to other StrataBet leagues very comfortably indeed.

Good luck if you decide to venture into this notoriously difficult market!

Dan King

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