Three weeks into the new Premier League season, the team playing at home have won just 6 of the 30 fixtures (20%). This figure will undoubtedly rise as the new campaign progresses but the percentage of home wins throughout a season has been in continuous decline. But what has caused this recent trend and will we see it starting to be reversed?
There are many reasons for the decline, but one of the key factors is the lack of a ‘home banker’. As recently as December 2009 Mick McCarthy was playing his reserves in a fixture at Old Trafford whilst in 2010/11 Manchester United won 57 of the 59 points available at home. However, lower half teams no longer fear the established top 6 meaning they are more likely to drop points at home. So far this year, last season’s top 4 have won 2 of their 6 home fixtures, one being Manchester City’s demolition of fellow title contenders Chelsea. Meanwhile, Arsenal have failed to score against West Ham and Liverpool, Manchester United suffered the same issue against Newcastle and Chelsea were lucky to escape with a point from their home encounter with Garry Monk’s Swansea. The only other home victory for the top 4 was United’s Kyle Walker assisted victory against Spurs on the opening day of the season.
Teams are content to visit the top 4 and play defensively but have faith in their ability to keep a clean sheet or score on the counter-attack, a complete shift in attitude compared to previous years. As teams have started to pick up points at Stamford Bridge, the Emirates, the Etihad, Old Trafford and Anfield, the rest of the league has gained confidence, believing that they will be able to replicate the feat. This means the top 5 will be dropping unexpected points throughout the season, one of the main factors in the number of points required to become champions reducing in recent years. Of course these teams will win more than they lose at home but don’t be surprised when they are not winning week in, week out.
However, the counter-attacking style that is becoming such a useful asset in away fixtures presents a fundamental issue at home. Home supporters notoriously like to see their team playing an attacking brand of football, not one that is primarily focused on defence. This means being more expansive in attack, leaving bigger gaps in defence and giving visiting opponents more opportunities. This is a particular problem against the top 8 where their more technically gifted players exploit the bigger gaps and punish any mistakes. In their six games away from home this season, last season’s top four have suffered just one defeat, Chelsea’s at Manchester City. In contrast to the goalscoring struggles at home, City and Chelsea have both scored 3 at West Brom whilst Arsenal scored twice at Selhurst Park and City twice at Goodison Park.
Aston Villa have been a prime example of this in recent seasons as away from home, the pace and power of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke gave the Villans a dynamic outlet. At home though, when the pressure was on Villa to have the majority of possession and break down a more rigid opposition defence, they badly struggled.
The improved condition of pitches throughout the top flight also benefits the top teams when playing away from home. Gone are the days of travelling to play on a synthetic pitch or bobbly minefield in winter. Now, pitches are perfectly produced throughout the year, negating any advantage that home pitches used to provide.
Many home atmospheres have also deteriorated with more seats sold to a corporate audience who are more interested in a day out at the football than offering vocal support to those on the pitch. The increased money in football has also led to increased fan expectations meaning a misplaced pass or defensive error draws moans and groans rather than encouragement to improve. For players who are lacking in confidence this can be a hammer blow to their fragile state of mind, making them go into their shell rather than playing in a more expansive fashion that is required to break through a rigid defence. In comparison, this uncertainty can allow away players to thrive, playing their natural game with the only pressure coming from committed supporters who have travelled away from home to follow their team, providing support through thick and thin.
Finally, players are better prepared for away games with travel not making players tired on the eve on a game as used to be the case. Players do not need to worry about long arduous coach journeys on the morning of the game, instead they are more likely to be relaxing in a local hotel the night before following an afternoon flight up the country.
Therefore, there is nothing to suggest that the reduction in home wins is likely to stop as more teams have confidence to visit a top side and gain a point but then suffering at home with their style of play. Therefore, on your coupons and accumulators this year, it may be a safer bet to pick the top 4 when they are playing away from home rather than in their own backyard.
Featured image provided by Philip Hartland.[separator type=”thin”]
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