Coronavirus: On home advantage behind closed doors

During Sunday’s Carrusel Deportivo, a sports show on Spanish radio station Cadena SER, one of my co-pundits noted that Borussia Dortmund were the only team to win at home in the Bundesliga this weekend. We wondered: Is home advantage wiped out by playing behind closed doors? However, Axel Torres pointed to a stat that belied such a notion: in Germany’s second tier, all five games had ended in a home victory. No need to get ahead of ourselves, then - particularly as this is football we’re talking about. I had felt like there hadn’t been many fouls in the two games I saw, and put that down to the lack of fans getting the players riled up. But I later learned that the number of fouls committed was in line with the league average.

We'll have to wait and see what impact playing without fans has on home advantage - a factor which is certainly of huge importance under normal circumstances, if not as significant as it was half a century ago. Between 1950 and 1960, home teams won 66% of all LaLiga fixtures. In the past decade, that figure was a far more even 48%. The dimensions of each ground are now more uniform and surfaces are generally in the same kind of shape, but, more than anything else, what has become less of a burden for away sides is the travel. In the 50s, crossing Spain was a two-day round trip by coach. After lunch, the bus would go on ahead so the players could stretch their legs with an hour's walk. How things have changed.

Lack of atmosphere affects both teams, both home and away

Several coaches have told me that the chief effect of behind-closed-doors games is one felt by both teams: it’s hard to 'get into the game' in an atmosphere more like a training session. Preparing players for that is crucial, they say. And what of the officials? When decisions go against the hosts, the referee won't face the prospect of the crowd's angry reaction, which has been known to be an influence. There was a time when refs in Spain were classed as ‘hawks’ or ‘pigeons’, depending on how brave they were; everyone wanted a hawk away and a pigeon at home. But that’s less of a factor now, particularly with VAR watching over decisions, acting as a safety net. An imperfect one, but a safety net nonetheless.