Home advantage edge has gone in pandemic era

Lucas Covolan, Goalkeeper of Torquay United makes a save during the National League match between To

Torquay goalkeeper Lucas Covolan makes a save during the behind-closed-doors match between Torquay United and Woking at Plainmoor on Good Friday. - Credit: Dave Crawford/PPAUK

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have lost three games in a row at Anfield - something that has not been witnessed before.

Anfield has been a fortress for many years and prior to the pandemic, Liverpool had gone on a run of 68 games without losing at home.

With the famous Kop still standing silent as the coronavirus pandemic continues to necessitate games without fans, and following defeat to Burnley, Brighton and Manchester City, the fear factor of playing at Anfield is at an all-time low.

Liverpool are not the only team suffering in the premier League this season.

Of the 17 sides still in the top flight from last season, only five teams - Chelsea, Aston Villa, Southampton, West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur - have seen their home form improve when playing in front of empty stands, compared to their pre- coronavirus form surrounded by fervent support. 

It is very clear without supporters at the stadium, the home team doesn’t have the advantage with the support behind them.

Research has shown both a 'levelling' of home-away advantage and a swing in disciplinary trends.

Most Read

It has been proven through analysing and producing stats that there has been a drop in goals scored at home - from 1.5 to 1.4 pre-and post-lockdown - and an 18 per cent increase in away goals after lockdown.

Away teams have also come away with better results: home wins have decreased by two per cent, but away wins are 26 per cent up from pre-to post-lockdown.

Away team yellow cards have also decreased from an average of 1.9 per game to 1.5 per game in front of empty stands, even though fouls committed have stayed roughly the same. This also speaks to referee pressure.

Liverpool have been hit hardest by the empty stands effect but Brighton, Newcastle, and Sheffield United’s home form has also disintegrated without fans.

Liverpool’s form has also been marred with their injury crisis especially with their first choice centre backs missing with long-term injuries and the squad is battling 'mental fatigue', as Klopp puts it.

They have won ten of their 16 home games since lockdown – winning an average of two points per match at Anfield – compared to last season’s remarkable record of 100 per cent until the season was put into hiatus. Anfield without fans is just Anfield  

West Ham have benefited the most from having empty stands – they’ve won 29.73 per cent more points than pre- lockdown. There are, of course, other factors. 

More anecdotal evidence can be found when looking at World Cup winners. In total, six teams have won on home soil Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934), England (1966), West Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and France (1998).

In 2002, even host nation South Korea made it to the semi- finals, something no-one predicted.

Coincidence? Or did the fact that they played on home soil in front of their fans make the difference? 

Research between 1993-2004 analysed 9,000 international matches and the results showed that the sides won 50.3 per cent of home games, losing just 25.1 per cent.

So we can assume home advantage in football with fans makes a big difference - but why?

Higher testosterone - one explanation could be that male players have a higher testosterone level when playing at home. 

A study conducted by the Northumbria University of Newcastle found out that salivary testosterone levels in football players were significantly higher before home games than away games.

The study also showed that the testosterone levels increase when teams play their perceived rivals. 

The study shows that perceived rivalry of the opposition team was important as testosterone levels were higher before playing an extreme rival than a moderate rival. 

This confirms that the testosterone levels are higher in home players because of the backing of support and the feeling of the home crowd.

If you talk about small margins, small margins among 11 players and subs adds up and makes a difference when playing at home.

The referees  - research in 2007 shows that sports with subjective officiating tend to experience greater home advantage and the referee's decisions can be influenced by crowd noise.

Incidentally, when VAR was introduced in European football, less bias decisions have been documented.

This suggests that the addition of VAR might help reduce this cognitive bias for our referees and lowers the influence of home advantage in football.  

Playing in empty stadiums especially at home takes away the intimidation factor from the opposition to a degree, the games are almost pre-season – like friendlies with nobody there.

The truth is the games are boring, like training sessions and teams/players at all levels are finding it difficult to perform without crowd pressure.

The pandemic has caused a football change and I must say for the worse. You can see it in all matches, and I hope this all ends soon and we can get fans back into the stadiums and return to normality. 

Stick to the rules so we can look forward to supporting our teams inside our stadiums.