West Ham and Crystal Palace find joy in Premier League Away Days
A lot is made of home form in football. From title challengers to newly promoted clubs, every side is driven by the idea that their ground needs to become a fortress in order to reach their potential for the season ahead. Obviously, the ability to win at home is a vital weapon in any team’s arsenal, but there are just as many points on offer on the road over the course of the season. This year, we have several Premier League teams taking advantage of the riches on the road
Playing away from home is always tough; travel, opposing fans and less familiar surroundings stack the odds against the visiting team. Yet, if a team can master these difficulties, there is an absolute gold mine of points to be sourced from travelling victories, and the early stages of the Premier League season have shown a number of teams revelling their life on the road. In fact, over the course of the opening seven match-days, away teams have accumulated a grand total of 98 points, compared to a mere 92 at home. Home advantage, then, appears to be a dying concept.
The most notable clubs responsible for this shift in results are West Ham United and Crystal Palace; two traditionally unfashionable London sides who are accustomed to relying on solid home form as the primary reason for their Premier League survival. However, under the respective tutelage of Slaven Bilic and Alan Pardew, these sides have been transformed teams who are perfectly suited to life on the road. Crystal Palace have taken nine points from four away matches, while The Hammers have won every single away game to date. More impressively, the locations of their victories have been The Emirates Stadium, Anfield and The Etihad – some record.
The main reason for the impressive away form of West Ham and Palace is a mixture of the personnel and systems employed by the two sides. Both teams have solid and reliable defenders, coupled with lightning quick, skilful, attacking players. As a result, they can soak up pressure and counter attack in an instant, which is perfect for life on the road, but lack the finesse to open up a tightly packed defence, limiting their results at their own ground.
It is clear to see West Ham; who are currently the best away side in the league yet lie just 15th in the equivalent home table, have the players to damage any side. Diafra Sakho was a revelation in the Premier League last season, using his pace and his sharp finishing to cause havoc amongst established defences. Now supported by Victor Moses, Manuel Lanzini and the creative Dimitri Payet; who is one of the most prolific provider of goals in Europe, West Ham have become one of the most dangerous attacking sides in the division. With 15 goals, they are the joint top scorers in the Premier League.
Attacking is clearly not an issue for The Irons. Their goalscoring records have been very similar between their home and away fixtures, with 8 goals in 4 matches at home compared to 7 in 3 games on the road. However in defence, West Ham have conceded just one goal away from home compared to a massive 8 at the Boleyn Ground.
The key to this difference is their defensive midfielder, Cheikhou Kouyaté. Allowed more license to attack at home, Kouyaté contributes to West Ham’s attacking prowess with his significant physical presence, yet it is clear that they miss his protective influence at home. In their away games, Kouyaté acts as a disciplined protector of his back four. This is obviously lacking at home, contributing to the difference in West Ham’s form between home and away matches.
Balance is less of a problem at Selhurst Park, it is more the nature of their attacking talent. Yannick Bolasie, Bakary Sako and Wilfried Zaha thrive on the space available during counter attacks, especially supported by the creativity of Yohan Cabaye and Jason Puncheon. In the tight confines of their home games however, Palace struggle to unlock stingier defences and when they do, they lack an out and out striker capable of putting away chances on a regular basis.
These London clubs are not the only outfits finding away days profitable. Newly promoted Norwich; a revelation under former Hamilton Academicals man Alex Neil, have only lost a single away game in 2015 under their young manager, and have claimed impressive points at Anfield and Upton Park in the burgeoning season. West Bromwich Albion under Tony Pulis, are unsurprisingly strong away from the Hawthorns, claiming victories at both Stoke and Aston Villa in spite of poor home results. It is clear that a number sides who perpetually find themselves in mid-table or fighting relegation are finding their adventures on the road far more profitable than home fixtures.
Not every team has the right mixture of manager and players to pull off consistently excellent away performances, yet the Premier League currently boasts a number of sides who have developed an uncanny knack of emerging from tricky travels with stunning victories. Thanks to the importance placed on home results, the performances of the likes of West Ham United and Crystal Palace on the road may just give them the advantage on their mid-table rivals, and could see them develop into serious contenders for European places.
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