After eleven games of the Premier League 2020/21 season, one particularly interesting trend has emerged. Home advantage, which has traditionally translated to more points and bigger wins for sides, has been nullified entirely.
Of the 106 games played this far, 46 have ended in away wins while only 40 have resulted in home victories. That is a significant reversal from the previous season when over the entire campaign, there were 172 home wins versus 116 away wins.
A big factor in this change is the absence of crowds due to the global pandemic. Research by the University of Naples found that the vocal support of a crowd gives home sides a 13% better chance of securing a victory compared to the away team.
The influence of a partisan crowd is something that fans of all clubs will be familiar with, as this support can have a positive psychological effect on players. It can also intimidate opposing sides, especially at grounds like Anfield and Old Trafford.
Empty stadiums have removed this outside influence almost entirely as games, before the new COVID-19 tier system in England, played out without crowd noise, making matches at the high level feel reminiscent of training ground matchups.
Without a crowd to rally sides, home teams have fallen to bigger defeats this season. Spurs recently thumped Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford while Leicester City humbled Manchester City 5-2 at the Etihad Stadium.
There were seven goals in both of those games, which is indicative of another trend. After the first eleven rounds of PL matches, 317 goals have been scored at an average of 2.99 goals per game.
Back in September and October, there were severalhigh-scoring matches, including Aston Villa’s incredible 7-2 win over reigning champions Liverpool.
Free-scoring teams are arguably another factor linked to the absence of crowds. Players may lack a certain intensity in key moments without vocal support, especially defenders and goalkeepers who can make fatal errors that lead to goals.
However, there has been a slight drop off in goals scored during the last month or so. In late October, the average goals per game ratio was 3.14.Now it has fallen to under three. The average in a typical season is usually between 2.6-2.9.
The concept of home advantage is also being affected by the use of VAR in the Premier League. Fans have not warmly received the new technology, but it makes games more exciting and gives away sides more of a chance.
The Psychology of Sport and Exercise study, published 18 years ago, found referees are less likely to make decisions that go against the home side. This theory was supported by recent research from the University of Reading, showing that away sides get the lion’s share of yellow cards and fouls awarded against them.
VAR has been a leveller of sorts in this department. During the early season, away teams were awarded 22 spot-kicks, three more than home teams.
There has been a marked rise of penalties overall with the new interpretation of the handball rule leading to more offences in the opposition’s penalty box. However, away teams seem to be benefitting more for now. Since the Premier League began back in 1992, 61.5% of penalties have been awarded to home teams.
The unpredictable nature of the current season has also paved the way for some uncharacteristic results for the top sides.Such as Liverpool’s capitulation at Villa after Jurgen Klopp’s side stormed to the Premier League title last term with 99 points.
This has increased the likelihood of one of the “less fashionable” teams breaking into the top six. Southampton are currently in fifth place after picking up six wins from their first eleven games, while Leicester City, champions back in 2016, are in fourth following seven wins.
The league is bunched up at the top with Tottenham Hotspur currently in first place with 24 points. However, Jose Mourinho’s team are only ahead of Liverpool on goal difference and two and three points ahead of Chelsea and Leicester, respectively.
With home advantage being eroded and leading teams falling to defeats, there is the potential for punters on the Premier League market to benefit by making the right bets on teams and scorers during each round of games. Those using the Virgin Bet bonus code can also sign up to get free bets on the biggest matches.
While Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, Spurs and Man United are currently in the top seven and covered by six points, there is the chance for a Southampton, Wolves, or Everton to break into the Europa League or Champions League places with the right run of results.
One thing that will help other teams is the fact that the big sides all have at least one glaring weakness that is likely to prevent them from running away with the title.
Liverpool, for example, have looked shaky at the back since Virgil van Dijk was ruled out with a potential season-ending injury during the feisty 2-2 draw with Everton. Klopp has had to rely on a makeshift centre back pairing that includes midfielder Fabinho, which could unsettle them.
Pep Guardiola’s Man City have also struggled thus far following injuries to crucialgoal scorers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, while Man United have had to rely on individual brilliance to rescue games amid speculation that club culture is in chaos.
Things are even worse for former top-four regulars Arsenal.Their latest 2-0 defeat to Spursin the North London derby left them in 15th place with just four wins and 13 points from eleven games.
With more than two-thirds of the season still to play, it is looking likely that the unpredictability will continue. However, the return of crowds, even in limited numbers, could restore at least some of the traditional home-field advantage.
What is certain is that the Premier League will continue to provide some of the best entertainment in top-level football and that there will be many twists and turns in the title race during the next few months.