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Goodbye to home advantage?

There’s no advantage in football like home advantage. Its main underlying drivers, as far as we know, are familiar conditions, less travel and, of course, a dominant local crowd behind the home side. Now, with the prospect of football being played behind closed doors, at least for the rest of this season and if not longer – how may this affect home advantage as we know it?

The nature of home advantage has changed over time, as the relative impact of the drivers has changed. A quarter of a century ago, home teams won 49% of matches in the big five European Leagues. Today that figure is around 45%. What’s more, the lower down the leagues you go, the smaller home advantage gets.

To truly understand the consequences on team performance for the remainder of the season, in the extreme case where neutral venues were used for the rest of the season, we went ahead and tested the theory. We ran simulations on the big 5 leagues both with and without home advantage. Without a home advantage factor, home teams won 8% fewer games over the remainder of the season, demonstrating a decline from winning 44% of the remaining games to 36%.

Some teams might be more disadvantaged than others in this scenario. For instance, Norwich were one of the most affected Premier League teams, since they would be losing home advantage in closely-contested games against Brighton, Southampton and Burnley. While Manchester City and Chelsea would lose home advantage when hosting Norwich, the gap in quality between these teams is much larger, and home advantage would be less important. For example, in ‘normal’ circumstances Norwich would have a 37% chance of beating Southampton at home, but this drops to 28% without home advantage. However, when Manchester City were hosting Norwich they would have an 89% chance of winning, but this only dropped to 85% without a home advantage factor.

We have seen that home advantage has gradually weakened over time, especially in lower divisions where it is less prominent but still plays a vital role in the game as we know it today. Our analysis has shown that individual teams must consider and adapt their strategies in a world without in-stadium fans – what other competitive edges could be squeezed out in matches where home advantage is lost or diminished? Now more than ever, small changes could make big differences.

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