How to Predict a Football Team’s Ball Possession Percentage

One of the most important stats to have crept into the consciousness of football bettors is possession. It’s used as a metric to gauge an outcome because as a rule of thumb, teams that control possession dictate games.


Long gone are the days when punters only had limited options for betting on matches, like picking the correct score and match result. Now there are many niche markets like the Total Home Shots on Target, an Over/Under on how many times a player gets fouled, to which team will have the most possession.


When you break it down, predicting a football team’s possession percentage can help in many different markets. So it’s worth having a look at this area of the beautiful game when sizing up some opportunities.


Possession Matters


Possession as a lone metric doesn’t necessarily tell punters enough. A possession-based team could easily fall foul of a brilliant counter-attacking side, for example. You’ll hear the much-touted phrase “possession doesn’t win you games” spouted enough, but it certainly helps towards that goal.


Possession influences important aspects of a match, and that can help to get a read on certain things from a betting perspective. There are important relationships between possession and things like the quality of chances in a match. That ties into the popular xG statistic, which is seen as a good forecasting metric for predictions like at


On their way to the 2022/23 Premier League title, Man City had an xG of 2.16 per game, which was +0.31 above their projection for the season. Possession plays a big part in how well a team like City can open up opposing defences.


Possession Masters


A look at the top teams across Europe’s big five leagues paints a very common picture. Manchester City, so dominant in the English Premier League, are well known for their tiki-taka style of football under Pep Guardiola.


They were extremely comfortable on the ball in the 2022/23 season and had a league-high of 64.7% possession on average in matches. It’s no surprise that in La Liga, Barcelona and Real Madrid were the two best teams in possession last season, with Barca topping the charts at 64.5% per game on average.


This is a common trend. The stronger teams have the better players to not only control possession but are often handed more of it when facing weaker teams who are happy to just back off and focus on defending. This is where tactics come into the picture as well.


The Right Tactics


There are many different tactics for controlling possession in football. While it’s seen as primarily a controlled attack-minded style of play, it has huge benefits at the other end of the pitch as well.


The longer a team can hold onto the ball in a match, the fewer chances the opposition is likely to create. So it’s also a good way to limit attacking threats which can play into things like Over/Under and Clean Sheets.


The fundamentals of possession-based tactics allow a team to dictate not only the direction of play, but also the pace of the game played. Usually, this is a slower pace of patience and probing.


Passing skills, movement and control are the key elements of maintaining possession in a game. Among the most common tactics for possession-based teams include the 4-3-3 with its quick transition from front to back, and systems like 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2 which puts an emphasis on controlling the game in the middle of the park.


For Betting


It’s a good idea to let a few games of a new season go by to get a feel for how teams are setting up. That way you can assess how a team is playing, especially if there have been managerial changes during the summer.


Then looking at the possession stats in the league, you can get a good picture of which teams are dominant in this area. If you have a team that’s ranked 4th at home taking on a team that’s ranked 11th in possession away from home, that could play further into the advantage of the home team.


Teams can have greatly varying amounts of possession between home and away matches. A team 6th for home possession may be down at 17th in the away possession chart, for example. That could be an ideal opportunity to consider going against them when they pop up as favourites in an away match.


Plot possession and results as a season unwinds. You will likely see some trends, but be prepared for surprises too, like the bottom team having more possession than the three teams above them in the relegation zone, but results haven’t gone their way. Again, possession doesn’t guarantee results, but it can help gauge the value of odds on certain outcomes.