Tom Love's 2018 World Cup Betting Preview
Tom Love (@TomLove_18) gives us his thoughts on 2018 World Cup looking at the outright market and top goalscorer market (coming soon) and provides us with his best bets for this summer’s tournament in Russia.
Tom Love’s 2018 World Cup Betting Preview
The 2018 World Cup is quickly approaching and we asked one of our biggest contributors to the site Tom Love for his thoughts on the outright market and the top goalscorer which will be coming in a second instalment.
Firstly, let’s look at the outright market.
I was surprised to see Spain chalked up as third favourites to win the 2018 World Cup, I’d of expected them to be in joint favouritism along with Brazil but they’re behind the Selecao and Germany in the betting. This Spain side ticks a lot of boxes for me, they’ve won it fairly recently in 2010, they have a settled team, and a confidence in their ideology.
Spain have one of, if not the best keeper in world football with David De Gea. His reliability and consistent quality for Manchester United was backed up in the shot data last season, with a substandard keeper United could’ve found themselves scraping for a champions league spot. He was easily their best player, and has been for a while now. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique may be rivals at club level but they’re both excellent defenders in their own right and are two of the best at this World Cup, both have played in a vast amount of important games and they have the knowledge and wherewithal to help this side progress deep into the competition. Another Real Madrid and Barcelona duo flank the defence, Dani Carvajal on the right and Jordi Alba on the left. Both players love to get forward and they could provide much needed width for La Roja, they also both possess good pace and that’s key for full backs who bomb on, they can also get back into position quickly. As well as this, they’re accustomed to big games and that is of paramount importance when looking at a potential World Cup winner.
Julan Lopetegui is likely to continue with a fluid 4-3-3 formation, a staple of this Spanish side. Sergio Busquets will occupy the holding role as he does for Barcelona, this is one of the major roles in the side as his positional discipline will need to be on point, dropping back and slotting in when one or both of the full backs enter the attacking half of the pitch. Busquets will not venture forward himself but he will get on the ball and want to display one of his strongest qualities which is passing at the perfect moment. In front of him will be the evergreen Andres Iniesta, this will be his last World Cup and he has fond memories of this tournament after scoring the winner in the 2010 final against Holland. We all know about his technical quality, he may not be physically quick but his brain works quicker than most and his experience could be vital. One of the places that could be up for grabs is that third central midfield role, any of Thiago Alcantara, Saul Niguez and Koké could fill in there. I’d presume Koké would come in for the bigger games where more of a defensive structure is needed but the craft of Thiago could be desirable against the lesser lights.
In a more advanced and slightly wider role it’s likely to be Isco and David Silva. They will have freedom to move about and cut inside but they will be expected to get in between the lines of opposition midfield and defence and utilise their quick thinking and nimbleness on the ball to cut through teams. Silva in particular chips in with his fair amount of goals for his national side and is in the box a lot more than he is at Manchester City, they will need him to be on scoring form here as Spain lack many top goalscorers. Real Madrid pair Marco Asensio and Lucas Vázquez are also in the squad should the manager want to be a bit more direct and use the width of the pitch more in the final third.
Lopetegui has brought just three strikers to Russia with Diego Costa likeliest to start, his bullishness and physicality could be needed in a largely lightweight team, he doesn’t give defenders a moments rest. Alternatively they’re options in the form of Rodrigo who has done well for Valencia and the national side, he has more pace than the aforementioned Costa. Iago Aspas is also rightfully included in the squad after a sublime goal scoring season in Galicia with Celta Vigo.
Spain are embarrassed with riches when looking at their squad depth, just scanning through the players who didn’t make the cut says it all. Marcos Alonso, Asier Illaramendi, Rodri, Mani Trigueros, Javi Martinez, Inigo Martinez, Alvaro Morata, Gerard Moreno…I could go on.
La Liga is by far and away the best league in the world, or at least boasts the majority of the best teams in the world. Recent Madrid dominance in the Champions League and Europa League from Real and Atlético, Sevilla in years gone by have competed excellently with the European Elite, not to forget Barcelona. The majority of this squad ply their trade in this league and a lot of the emissions play in the Premier League, it says it all really. In terms of quality, they have it. In terms of winners, they have it. In terms of big game experience they have it, far beyond any other nation competing in Russia.
Looking at the outright market blind I’d of expected Spain to be around the 5/1 mark, no bigger than 11/2 so to see them priced at 13/2 makes huge appeal. Should the tournament go the way the odds expect then Spain would meet Russia/Egypt in the last 16, then an out of sorts Argentina, an ageing Germany and then a final with Brazil. That forecast is unlikely to unravel in that way, that’s only if all the favourites win their respective games. I think they’re better as a collective than any of those teams and from a value perspective I think they’re a good thing here.
Many seem to fancy Uruguay as a dark horse for the 2018 World Cup and it’s easy to see why. Their price gives good each way value and ‘La Celeste’ should give punters a solid run for their money. Uruguay famously hosted and won the first ever World Cup in 1930, they also won in Brazil in 1950 but have failed to do so since. Coach Oscar Tabárez will be hoping to end that 68 year wait in Russia and he is one of the most experienced managers who will be present at the competition. Tabárez is known as ‘El Maestro’ in his native country which literally means ‘The Teacher’ in English, he has managed the national team at under 20 level upon two occasions in 1983 and 1987 and then became the first team coach from 1988-90. He came back in 2006 and has stayed since then, he put a lot of focus on improving the youth team structure since his return and it is starting to reap rewards with a conveyor belt of technically gifted players coming through.
Atlético Madrid centre half Josè María Giménez is one of those who has been brought through the ranks and he is now a regular starter along side the experienced Diego Godin at both club and international level. Not only will their club partnership help them as a unit here, the fact they have been managed by the defensive expert Diego Simeone for years makes them all the more reliable. If there’s weaknesses in this side it would be at full back but if you are to have weaknesses then I’d argue that is the place to have them.
Another duo from the Under 20 side that recently won the 2017 championship are midfielders Federico Valverde (Real Madrid) and Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), unfortunately Valverde is injured and ruled out of the World Cup but Bentancur is highly thought of, but at just 19 years old a starting berth may be too early. Ex Aston Villa anchor Carlos Sanchez has an important role in breaking up play in the middle of the park, Matías Vecino is playing at a high level regularly with Inter Milan and Lucas Torreira has been one of the breakthrough stars in Serie A with Sampdoria. They do lack natural width but they have a good array midfield options.
Up front is where they are most lethal though, with Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez. Not only are both technically very good, they’re also very hard workers and they both score goals. Cavani struck 10 times in qualifying and has 42 goals in 100 appearances for La Celeste and an even better goals to games ratio at club level. He is powerful and always seems to get in the right positions, sometimes his touch and finishing gets called into question but the fact he gets so many chances highlights how effective his movement and awareness is when he’s in and around the box. Suárez actually has an even better goals to game ratio than Cavani, scoring on average just over 1 every 2 games. He is a master of the dark arts and that’s sometimes been a negative but he uses his body better than anyone in the world and his finishing is exemplary.
Uruguay arguably have the easiest group with minnows Saudi Arabia, an underwhelming Russia and Egypt that is unlikely to have a fully fit Mo Salah. They kick off their campaign on the Friday against Egypt and it’s unlikely that their main man will make it, its a big chance for Uruguay to get off to a good start and although Egypt are decent defensively, they should have too much. I’d be confident of them collecting at least 7 points in this group and topping it, should this happen they’re likely to meet Portugal should group B go to plan. I feel they have enough about them to get at them defensively, so quarter finals should be a realistic aim and they have a strong spine that could see them go further into the competition from there. Tournament football is all about what you do on the day and at 33/1 I think they hold the most each way appeal when looking away from the favourites.
At the World Cup a market that is popular with punters is the Golden Boot award. In a tournament with a maximum of 7 games there’s scope for an upset in this market and none of the favourites hold great appeal, not many goals need to be scored and a tie between two or more players is likely so each way punting makes sense. In this case I’m venturing into the bigger prices and have 3 selections that can provide some each way interest for the Tournament. Each way bets pay 4 places at 1/4 of the odds with most bookmakers.
As mentioned in my World Cup outright preview, I fancy Uruguay to be strong competitors. They have the weakest looking group with hosts Russia being automatically given top seeding, when in reality they would be third seeds; a weak Saudi Arabia and their most likely challengers, Egypt. These three group games present ample opportunity for the Uruguay strikers Cavani and Luis Suárez to fill their boots. Both players are around the same price in the golden boot market but I’d favour Cavani as he regularly gets himself in goalscoring positions and he has greater aerial presence than Suárez which could be important when teams sit deep against them.
Cavani has been a regular and reliable goalscorer at club level as well as international level for a good 8 years now. 78 goals in 104 games for Napoli and 116 in 165 games for his current club PSG are frighteningly good statistics. He’s scored almost one every two games for La Celeste as well so he has pedigree on the global stage. I think 30/1 is a more than fair price and a good each way bet.
France manager Didier Deschamps has stayed fiercely loyal to Giroud during his tenure, his faith in him has been vindicated with Giroud proving a great foil for whoever he is partnered with at the top of the pitch. It was clear to see that he improved his all round game under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, particularly his link up play and one touch passing in the final third. In a largely youthful France team stacked with attacking quality and pace he provides a nice counter balance with his height, strength and composure on the ball.
Les Bleus are matched with Denmark, Peru and Australia which is quite favourable for them. It’s likely that all teams will sit deep and try and get a point against them, this is the case for most major teams at the tournament. Therefore I’d rather look away from more of the quick and technical front men and plump for more of a physical threat and a penalty box merchant and Giroud ticks them boxes. After watching Peru in their penultimate World Cup qualifying game against New Zealand, their centre backs really struggled with the height and physicality of Chris Wood, a player in a similar mould to Giroud and I’d fancy the Chelsea man to have a field day in that clash.
Giroud has been used as a bit-part player under Antonio Conte and should come into the tournament fresh. France should go far into the competition and are fourth favourites in the betting, and with a fairly easy group there’s scope for goals. Antoine Griezmann takes up most of the market for France here but he’s too short in the betting in my opinion, Giroud has a highly respectable 31 goals in 73 games for France and I’d rather back him each way at an attractive price of 50/1.
A real outside shout here, a player who has had an excellent 2018 helping Fulham reach the Premier League, I’ve been majorly impressed every time I see him play. Aleksander Mitrović has a reputation as a fiery, aggressive striker and that is a major part of his game. However, there have been signs that he is channeling that emotional side of his game much better now and his goal record has since improved.
Serbia are a side I fancy to qualify second to Brazil in their group, a group that also includes Switzerland and Costa Rica. Mitrović is likely to spearhead the attack in a 4-2-3-1 formation and he has an excellent midfield behind him. Nemanja Matić holding, with the superb Sergej Milinkovic-Savic having more of a license to get forward. Adam Ljajić on the flank provides creativity and a good set piece, Dušan Tadić has a good record of assists and players such as Filip Kostić and the talented Andrija Živković can come in and perform well.
The Eagles can surprise a few in this tournament I feel, they have strong options all over the park and with Mitrović (the top scorer in a difficult qualifying group) at the front I feel he can carry on his good form and is worth a couple of quid each way at a bulbous 200/1.