Ah, who doesn’t love to see a good solid tackle in a football game!?
A wet pitch. A loose ball. Two players straining every sinew to get there first. In they slide with scant regard for anything else other than winning the ball (and maybe ‘leaving a bit’ on their opponent).
Some will tell you that tackling has gone out of the modern game, with players more mindful to stay on their feet in an age of eyes in the sky, aka VAR. Maybe the standard of ball control is better these days – with fewer mis-controls and losses of possession, there’s less opportunities for flying tackles to be made.
That’s what the ‘eye test’ tells many observers of Premier League games and the like, but the stats suggest otherwise. During the 2022/23 season, Leeds United were making an average of 22 tackles per game, with a league-wide median per 90 minutes of around 17.
Fulham’s Joao Palhinha was averaging 4.2 tackles per game on his own, with 51 Premier League stars in total averaging two or more every 90 minutes.
With an average of ten fouls per game, per team as well, it’s fair to say that those who say that physicality has gone out of modern football are wide of the mark.
All of which is good news for punters contemplating the merits of one of the fastest growing (in term of popularity) football ‘prop betting’ betting markets around: player and team tackles.
Can You Bet on Tackles in Football?
It’s true to say that, at the time of writing, not every UK-facing bookmaker has adopted tackles as one of their betting markets of choice.
But plenty have, with the prop-favouring Bet365, William Hill, BetVictor and SkyBet just a selection of those that let you bet on match details in granular detail.
With many of these firms, you can even follow along with your tackles bets in real time – the bookies’ live hub will typically show live updates for each of their prop categories during a game, be it tackles, shots, passes and so on.
If your chosen betting site doesn’t offer this service as part of their in-play package, stats sites and apps like FotMob are a good choice if you want to track tackle numbers during the match.
For reference, there’s generally three ways to bet on tackles in football:
- Match Tackles (Over/Under)
- Team Tackles (Over/Under)
- Player Tackles (Over/Under)
The bookies compile their odds based on a variety of factors, which all feed into a sort of ‘expected tackles’ line – it could be the playing style of each team, the aggressive nature (or otherwise) of the players on show, past data, the magnitude of the match and so on.
As you can imagine, friendly games and one-sided matches are generally not great for betting on tackles.
Conversely, those encounters between two local rivals, a pair of front-foot teams or games where both teams need to win can be excellent value when you want plenty of tackles to be made.
But as you can see from the screenshot above, you can always bet on the ‘unders’ side of the bet if you think a team or player will be conservative in their playing style.
What is a Tackle in Football?
Whenever you bet on a prop market in football, you are beholden to the rules and definitions of OPTA – the data firm that provides most UK licensed bookmakers with the stats they use to settled their customers’ wagers.
Now, we might instinctively feel as though we know what a tackle is, but we can be left disappointed or pleasantly surprised if OPTA see a coming together between two players as a tackle or not.
So, happily, they’ve published a definition which attempts to add some black-and-white objectivity to quite a subjective matter:
“A tackle is defined when a player connects with the ball in a legal, ground level challenge and successfully takes the ball away from the opposition player. The tackled player must be in controlled possession of the ball to be tackled by an opposition player.”
So, the next time you have a flutter on the tackles market and are watching the game live, you can refer back to this definition for what does, and doesn’t, constitute a tackle.
How to Bet on Tackles
Whenever you bet on a football prop market, you really want to take a deep dive into how the game will play out, the nature of the two teams and the individual battles out on the pitch.
What has gone before doesn’t always indicate what will happen next, i.e. just because a team/player has made lots of tackles in their previous games, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will next time out.
One of our favourite strategies for betting on tackles is to consider the individual battles on the pitch. Sometimes, the two teams will deploy central midfielders that simply love to tackle – they will want to win the ball back at all costs, often forgetting the tactical instructions of their managers in their desperation to put their foot in.
An example during the 2022/23 season might have been the games between Fulham and Leeds, which pitted the two most prolific tacklers in Palhinha and Tyler Adams against one another. According to FotMob, Palhinha made a whopping eleven tackles across their two games.
We can also consider the battle between a tricky winger that is left isolated against a full back; leaving the defender the unenviable task of having to stop their opposite number while exposed by their teammates.
For that, you might delve into the stats to look at the wide players that have a) had lots of touches of the ball, and b) attempts plenty of dribbles. A site like FBRef will be perfect for this fact-finding mission.
For example, we know that Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka attempted more take-ons (dribbles) than any other Premier League player in 2022/23 – and with 1882 touches of the ball, he was also the main focus of his team’s attacks; meaning a busy afternoon of tackling and harrying for his marker.