The magic of the Cup. The romance. Putting your club on the map. Giant-killing. There is certainly something about Cup competitions that stirs emotions more than some other matches. Should it stir different emotions when betting on football, however?
In many cases, they probably should. You can look at it from different perspectives. Cup games offer opportunities to spot an upset and take advantage of the big betting odds available.
However, others may say that it provides something of a distraction from the run-of-the-mill league campaigns where patterns and trends develop as teams play their counterparts with similar budgets, similar pitch surfaces and so on.
Upsets are not always easy to spot. Few confidently predicted holders Arsenal would fall to Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup earlier this month. Chelsea was unexpectedly taken to penalties by Norwich City before eventually winning. Yet there are things to look out for if you are going to hunt for an upset. The form is vitally important. If a team is on a winning run and gelling together well, they will not care whether their next opponent is in the league above them or not.
So, look for teams that are on good solid runs, perhaps unbeaten in their last five, but not necessarily leading their division, and select those as potentials. You need to also look in more detail at what sort of team both managers are putting out. Top-flight teams – particularly those with an eye on Europe – will often rest players in the Cup.
Tottenham Hotspur did it at the weekend and will now have to play Newport County again. West Ham United, depleted by injuries, also rested players and paid the price. But on the other hand, teams in a lower division might also rest players or give others an opportunity, so pay close attention to what the manager is thinking. There is another pointer to look for as well. Teams battling relegation are often good candidates to be knocked out early as the Cup is rarely their main priority. West Ham fit that bill before they lost to Wigan Athletic.
It isn’t as big a factor as it used to be but consider whether a high-flying team used to play on well-manicured pitches is heading somewhere where the pitch is far from perfect. While it might not be enough to spot an upset, it usually means fewer goals than usual and an opportunity to profit if you like to bet on under/over markets. For all the upsets, there are also opportunities to be had from complete mismatches. When a top-flight team meets a lower league struggler and picks a strong team, then more often than not the goals will rain in. This is where you can capitalize by backing over 2.5, over 3.5 or even over 4.5 goals.
Take the recent Manchester United – Yeovil Town match. Jose Mourinho picked a strong side for that one and was up against a side that had struggled to find the net in recent weeks, particularly against opponents above them in the league. It had +3.5 written all over it and Lukaku obliged in the final minute.