There will be NO home advantage! Clubs have fought to play at their own grounds but they won’t benefit if there are no fans present
- Brighton, Watford and Aston Villa’s bosses are against using neutral venues
- But a new study has revealed home advantage does not exist without fans
- Those findings appear to have been backed up by the return of the Bundesliga
- Bayern Munich were the only home Bundesliga side to win in Saturday’s games
Premier League clubs who have been fighting to restart the season with normal home and away games rather than neutral venues could be in for a rude awakening.
Brighton, Watford and Aston Villa bosses have also stated their opposition to neutral venues, in a bid to make the most of ‘home advantage’ when fighting for survival.
However, a new study has revealed that such an advantage does not exist when played in front of no fans — with a major reason shown to be that referees are no longer influenced by the home crowd.
Brighton chief executive Paul Barber has stated his opposition to using neutral venues
The study, which analysed all 191 competitive matches behind closed doors across Europe since the Second World War, showed that home teams won just 36 per cent of matches compared with 46 per cent in front of their supporters.
Away teams, meanwhile, won 26 per cent of the time with fans but saw their success soar to 34 per cent when behind closed doors. The difference was still the case when factoring in the relative strengths of the teams.
Those findings appear to have been backed up by the return of the Bundesliga. Only one home team was victorious in the first round of fixtures while only Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin were victorious on Saturday.
The study analysed 191 fixtures behind closed doors played across the French and Italian top flights, the Champions League and Europa League as well as one in La Liga.
It also showed that home teams score 0.21 goals fewer in games behind closed doors. Penalty kicks are also more likely to be missed by the home team and scored by the away team when the stadium is empty.
The Bundesliga’s return backs up a study that home advantage does not matter without fans
‘What we found was that home advantage essentially disappears,’ Dr James Reade, associate professor at University of Reading and co-author of the study told The Mail on Sunday.
‘It feeds back into the Premier League debate of neutral venues versus playing at home. You have got this rambling by the teams at the bottom that they want to maintain that home advantage. It doesn’t appear that there will be any home advantage.
‘You might have thought if you were a team with five games left at home and four away, you might want to argue you want to play them at home. But, actually, what this suggests is that if there are no fans, it does not really matter’
Aston Villa have six games left to play at home, one more than the rest of the bottom six, and have the best record on their own ground than any of their rivals.
Bayern Munich were the only home side in Germany’s top flight to win their game on Saturday
Villa chief Christian Purslow said recently to Talksport: ‘I’m against it [neutral venues]. We’re a club that prides itself on home form. Two-thirds of our wins this season have come at home. We’ve got six home games left to play and I think any Villa fan would agree that giving up that advantage is a massive decision.’
Brighton still have Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United to play in their remaining five home games.
‘The disadvantages of us not playing the league’s top teams in our home stadium and in familiar surroundings, even with 27,000 Albion fans very unlikely to be present at the Amex, are very obvious,’ said Brighton chief executive Paul Barber.
According to the new study, there are no extra disadvantages.
Previous studies into home advantage have shown that teams receive a boost from the crowd while others show that home supporters influence the referee.
Reade’s study revealed that away teams are treated less harshly by officials when there are no fans in the stadiums, with referees showing them on average half a yellow card less than in games with supporters. ‘That points to referees no longer being influenced on their split-second decisions.’
Former Premier League referee and The Mail on Sunday expert Chris Foy said: ‘From my own experience, one the whistle goes you are so focused on the match that you don’t really notice the crowd. And don’t forget that all match officials have radios in their ear and are in constant dialogue with their officials so you don’t really notice the crowd once you get going.’
Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow has also stated he is against neutral venues
Less injury time is given during behind closed doors games but there was no evidence to suggest this depending on whichever team was winning.
Clubs may still get their wish and follow in the steps of the Bundesliga who are playing their remaining matches home and away. Talks are ongoing with local authorities who remain worried that supporters could descend on stadiums and breaching social distances rules. A decision on neutral grounds is expected in the next few weeks.
‘We’re talking to the authorities about that,’ said Premier League chief Richard Masters. ‘I do believe we can appeal to fans not to congregate outside football grounds or go to other people’s houses to watch football matches in contravention of government guidelines.’
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