When you take a look at your team's fixtures for the upcoming season, have a think: how many of the games do you expect to win? You'll find that there are many more of these wins coming at home than away. But why?
There have always been statistics to back up the fact that teams playing at home hold an advantage and thus an increased chance of victory. However, if we take a look at the home win percentage over the past four years, we have seen a consistent drop in the number of games that home teams are winning.
In the 2009-10 season, 51% of games were won by the home team. Fulham were the prime example of this, winning 11 of their games at Craven Cottage, but only one on the road. Hull, meanwhile, failed to win a single game away from home. The following seasons saw that number drop from 51% to 47%, 45% and in the 2012-13 season, to just 44%.
So, what is it that is contributing to the demise of home advantage?
Firstly, we must take a look at what creates ‘home advantage’ in the first place.
Firstly, the pitch dimensions make a big difference. When you play half your games on the same sized pitch, you get used to the area and this affects your play. The defence can remain compact while still covering the width of the pitch, play can be spread out wide without losing control of the ball, and long balls can be played into the right area.
The perfect example of this is Arsenal’s old ground, Highbury. The pitch was very narrow and required quick, composed passing and movement. For the early part of the 21st Century, Arsenal were the best at this, and dominated teams visiting north London.
Secondly, the crowd. The atmosphere generated by a home crowd getting behind their team provides motivation to the home team, and lifts the spirit of the players. Marathon runners claim that the cheering crowd carries them through to the end, and a similar effect is had on footballers.
A prime example of this would be Manchester City’s late comeback against QPR in 2012, with two stoppage time goals that won them the Premier League. Without the noise of the crowd, many of the players may have lost hope.
Third, there comes the comfort of playing close to home. The players don’t have to travel as far, are used to their surroundings and have more time to prepare for the game. Sir Alex Ferguson once claimed that Manchester United’s league form suffered immensely in the weekends after a European away game.
Comfort with the surroundings makes a big difference during the game as well. Stoke’s Britannia Stadium sits high up on a hill with wide open gaps in the corners, creating strong winds within the stadium. Stoke’s long-ball game often fools defenders with unpredictable ball flight and their home form over the past five seasons backs this up, having won 41 games at home and just 15 away.
Finally, there comes the winning mentality that is paired with playing at home. There holds an enormous advantage in the simple fact that there is considered to be a home advantage. This is why teams set up differently home and away, often dictating the play at home and counter attacking away. It is why travelling to Old Trafford is a daunting occasion but hosting Manchester United is ‘our chance to beat them’.
With all of these factors in play, why is it that home form is slipping? What has happened to combat the many advantages and expectancies of a home team?
The pitch dimensions haven’t changed too much, though the old narrow Highbury pitch is no longer used and most pitches are relatively similar, but nothing has happened to dramatically shift the impact pitch size has.
Similarly, the advantage of playing in front of your fans hasn’t changed too much, at least not in the last five years. Perhaps the biggest change would have been the Taylor report that required all Premier League stadiums to be all-seater, as this would have reduced capacity, noise levels and the intimidation factor on away teams.
Home comforts would continue to ease the match day preparations of players, and if anything the distances travelled in European fixtures are increasing as the Eastern European teams are becoming more competitive, particularly those in the far reaches of Ukraine, Turkey and Russia.
So that leaves us with the winning mentality of home teams. Is that what is reducing, and therefore changing the face of Premier League home form? Perhaps not. Perhaps the winning mentality is still there, but it is the way away teams are adapting to this mentality that is changing. Home teams still dictate play and most of the time have more possession, but away teams are learning to absorb the pressure and counter attack effectively.
An incredible example of this was Newcastle’s trip to the Liberty Stadium in the 2011-12 season. Swansea were creating a reputation for their fluid passing play, and Alan Pardew set the Magpies up to combat this. Swansea managed a monumental 77% possession, but with two swift counter attacks, Newcastle won the game 2-0.
Teams that have generally been quite feeble away from home in recent years like Arsenal and Tottenham have really strengthened this season, with a 4-2-3-1 formation working perfectly away with three quick attacking players at the top of the midfield. It resulted in both teams reaching their highest points total in several years, and both winning more away games than the previous premier league champions Manchester City.
So it seems that home form still exists, and the factors that contribute to the success of teams playing on their own ground haven’t rescinded. However, away teams are more tactically astute, and counter-attacking football is seeing some of its best days in Premier League history.
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