Relegation Betting Strategy

Disappointed Football Player

Relegation is part and parcel of the game; for those that come up, there must be some that make way and go down. It’s not always easy to predict who that might be, but there are usually a small group of teams in each league that are more susceptible than others.

We’d say that choosing teams for relegation is easier than those for promotion, simply because a team can play amazingly well all season and still not get promoted due to circumstance, but if a team plays consistently badly, then there is a strong chance that they’re going down.

From a betting point of view, it’s a mix between crunching some numbers, assessing the “likely lads”, and then trying to apply some strategy to your final choice. Again, it’s probably easier to come up with a pool of relegation candidates than a pool of promotion candidates, if only based on previous form from the last season.

Cardiff Promotion
Cardifffan43 / CC BY-SA

The most obvious place to start are the teams that have just come up from the division below. There’s a good chance that at least one of them is going to be going straight back down, so you need to work out which are best equipped to stay in the division.

Here’s an interesting stat: only twice in Premier league history have all three teams that have been promoted from the Championship been able to avoid relegation the following season. This occurred in 2011/12 with QPR, Norwich, and Swansea, then again in 2017/18 with Newcastle United, Huddersfield, and Brighton.

The data on this is actually quite mixed across the top 5 leagues in Europe:

League Teams relegated in 1st season % of teams relegated in 1st season Teams relegated within 3 seasons % of teams relegated within 3 seasons
Premier League 10/27 37.03% 13/27 48.14%
La Liga 6/27 22.22% 9/27 33.33%
Bundesliga 6/19 31.57% 8/19 42.10%
Serie A 12/27 44.44% 14/27 51.85%
Ligue 1 9/26 34.60% 13/26 50.00%

Before we start to break it down, note that in both Bundesliga and Ligue 1 they run a relegation play off. The bottom 2 teams are both automatically relegated and the top 2 teams from league below are automatically promoted, but the team finishing 3rd from bottom plays a two-legged match between the team finishing 3rd in the league below. The winner will play in the higher league for the next season. This messes with the stats a little in that some seasons might only see 2 relegated teams.

Serie A is probably the standout here in terms of raw data, with 44.44% of newly promoted teams going straight back down. It also states that the remaining teams will be relegated within 3 seasons 51.85% of the time. The jump from Serie B to Serie A is evidently one of the most difficult in Europe, and promoted teams that aren’t well enough equipped slip straight back down.

La Liga sees just 22.22% of teams getting relegated straight away, and just 33.33% of teams being relegated within 3 seasons. The opposite of Serie A could be said for La Liga, with the 2 tiers of the league being much more closely matched.

From a betting perspective, we would be targeting newly promoted teams from Serie A to go down, and for La Liga we might be looking at established teams that struggled in the previous season. This is likely going to offer better value as most bookies have the three promoted teams as the favourites for the drop, so if you can find an established club that might struggle then you are more likely going to be getting a decent price.

(Smart) Investment is Key

Money now rules the roost in football, and the days of player loyalty to one club are pretty much all but gone. The transfer fees are substantial and the players (plus agents) often get a cut, which makes the deals even more lucrative.

Teams that fail to invest in their squad are prime suspects for a relegation battle. The old saying that “if you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards” is very much appropriate here, and football clubs need to be investing in their players and staff.

A good example of this are smaller teams that have sold big players and failed to replace them. These might not necessarily be your superstar players, but core players for lesser teams who start to struggle when they are gone.

A great example of this was Blackpool who shocked the Championship in 2009/10 season by gaining promotion to the Premier League. They brought in no fewer than 12 players that summer and then a further 5 players in January. It proved too much, and the team that had seen success in the Championship got relegated after their maiden season. They also lost key team members that summer such as Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell who were integral players.

Blackpool ended up in League 2 by 2016/17, such was the extent of the financial gamble they had taken to stay in the Premier League.

This also served as a stark warning for bettors. Investment needs to happen, but it can’t be rushed. When you see teams gambling on scores of new players, the majority of the time this becomes a financial weight around their neck and it doesn’t work out.