Homesick: Why are so many Premier League teams struggling to win on their own turf?
An emerging trend in the Premier League continued at the weekend, with only three games out of the latest round of fixtures producing home wins. This now makes for a cumulative total of just nine out of 40 Premier League fixtures so far being won by the hosts.
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As a supporter of a lower division club that has won 19 out of its last 73 home league games, I have seen for myself that this homesickness is something that extends beyond the elite, and the malaise is only now garnering attention because the bigger clubs are catching the cold too. What might be causing this?
Footballing reasons allied to unconscious reactions to footballing architecture can be pinpointed. Various pundits have, over the course of last weekend, been quick to play up the uptick in teams becoming more “cute” in implementing counter attacking tactics at away grounds.
Of course there is something in this; a midfield three clogging up the centre of the pitch and making things narrow while the full-backs provide the width and pace to launch quick breaks is now such a widely used formation, and no longer the preserve of hipster coaches. We should not forget that formations only become popular if they are successful – and this one certainly allows sides employing them to deny opponents the opportunity to get in behind defences due to a lack of midfield width.
It also largely produces turgid football that suggests most Premier League teams are so mindful of the financial incentives of avoiding relegation, that employing these tactical ligatures is seen as good business sense. The anxiety of host clubs concerning their own priorities (in basic terms, that old cliché about needing to win your home games) when faced with trying to break out of straitjackets has created a pinch point whereby away sides are profiting from these jitters.
Looking away from the pitch, there is a huge non-footballing factor at play in this, and it has only been partially addressed by the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho when they have launched public criticisms of passive Arsenal and Chelsea fans respectively.
Put simply, all-seater stadia are both extremely effective pacifiers and surveillance tools. We know that modern grounds, by their nature, stop the mass congregation of groups of like-minded fans who want to orchestrate chants. High ticket prices also prevent the groups most likely to create a loud environment (teenagers and young adults) from attending in great number. This militates against a partisan atmosphere as starting mass chants while dispersed is very difficult.
Also, when you attend a match at these stadia, your name is tied to a seat number when you purchase the ticket. Throw CCTV into the mix, and fans find themselves very easily identifiable should somebody in your vicinity arbitrarily find an action of yours offensive. I am not talking anti-social behaviour; if somebody is genuinely indulging in that, that is their own fault and they should face the consequences. I’m talking about a bit of mere partisan singing or periodic standing up to start a chant. Let us not forget that fans of some of the biggest clubs in the country have seen away allocations cut because of ‘persistent standing’ in an environment where most people are amenable to this. The risk of being ejected or banned just is not worth it to anybody who is motivated enough to either hold a season ticket or buys the ticket through technology.
Modern football fans know they are being watched like hawks, and are behaving accordingly. If a crowd can no longer be an effective weapon for a home side, then it naturally figures that an away side will feel more comfortable in what are, at Premier League level anyway, mostly accommodating surroundings regardless of what colour the interiors are.
What factors do you think are responsible for the spate of away wins we are currently seeing in the Premier League?
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