No cutting edge
As La Liga, Serie A and the Premier League line up to join the Bundesliga in resuming play, all eyes have been on Germany to try to work out what the impact of playing behind closed doors has been. Why has home teams’ win percentage in the Bundesliga almost halved?
It’s not that home teams have gotten any worse defensively. While the number of away goals scored has increased, the data suggests away sides have been getting lucky: there has been no significant increase in the underlying quality of chances created by away teams since the restart.
The reason home teams are struggling to win games is instead because they themselves are scoring fewer goals. We would have expected home teams to have scored 1.8 goals per game since the restart had the fixtures been played in normal circumstances. The reality is they’ve scored just 1.2 goals per game. And there is nothing in the data to suggest they’ve been hard done by: the number of home goals scored aligns closely with the number they’d be expected to score given the quality of the chances they have created.
Stronger teams in particular appear to be having greater difficulty matching their previous attacking output when at home. This is partly a statistical quirk – if you are expected to score more goals in a game, there is more possible downside if you underperform. But evidence from the games so far suggests there is more to it than that. While there was little relationship between the quality of a team and their propensity to underperform at home pre-lockdown, there is a clear correlation in the games since the restart after controlling for the team’s attacking tilt.
So far, RB Leipzig are the biggest underperformers at home relative to pre-match expectations. Despite two impressive victories away from home, they were lucky to secure any points from their games against Hertha BSC and Paderborn at the Red Bull Arena. They were hampered by red cards in both games, but data from the period when the match was 11 vs 11 suggests they were already having a bad day prior to the sending offs: in the game against Hertha, they were creating chances worth just 0.4 goals per game.
So why are home teams struggling to score?
No longer the lucky beneficiaries of the home crowd’s wisdom, referees are giving more free-kicks to away teams and more yellow cards to the hosts. But home teams are being awarded just as many penalties, free-kicks and corners as they were earlier in the season, so refereeing decisions don’t appear to be the source of their attacking woes.
Neither is there evidence that home teams are struggling to dominate possession without the home crowd’s backing. There has been a slight drop in home teams’ average possession since the restart (from 52.3% to 51.5%), but the difference is so small it’s unlikely to represent any meaningful change.
Instead, home teams are finding it more difficult to work the ball into dangerous areas when they are in possession, with final third entries falling by almost 10%. When there, the types of chance they create have changed: home teams are making a similar number of crosses per game, but significantly fewer passes into the box from central areas. And when home teams do manage to create shooting opportunities, the quality of the chance tends to be slightly lower.
All of this suggests players are potentially taking less risks when on the ball, perhaps as a result of lower confidence levels after a lengthy period without competitive games, and the unfamiliar environment of an empty stadium. This could be a perfect opportunity to assess which coaches are skilled motivators, able to give their players the confidence to create despite the strange circumstances, and who has the tactical ability to adapt their side’s attacking play to cope with its temporary limitations.