Premier League Betting: How no fans and neutral venues will affect the game
Alex Keble takes a look at who stands to benefit and who loses out should the Premier League resume without fans and at neutral venues...
The Premier League is aiming to restart on June 8, and although that date is subject to change, government support and a collective determination by clubs to avoid a financial black hole, suggests football will get back underway sooner rather than later.
And with each fresh meeting we move closer to football being played behind closed doors (a necessity that could extend through the entirety of 2020/21) and at 8-10 neutral venues.
Consequently, the Premier League will look very different when it returns, with the advantages of playing at home - and with fan support - evaporating.
But how exactly will it change the landscape of Premier League football? And with nine rounds of the 2019/20 season remaining, which clubs stand to benefit the most?
No fans and no home games means a 100% reduction in match-day revenue. This could have dire consequences on football lower down the pyramid, and indeed it looks like every club outside the Premier League will need enormous financial support from the top 20 clubs.
But in England's top tier, it shouldn't be too much of an issue. With TV revenue constantly rising, match-day takings now only account for 13% (on average) of club's income. However, there are still differences between clubs that could have a knock-on effect on their manoeuvrability in the transfer market.
Arsenal have the highest ratio, with 24% of income coming from fans, while Tottenham and Manchester United are similarly reliant on this revenue stream. Generally it is clubs with bigger stadiums who are hit the hardest, hence it shouldn't really be a big problem for the league; it is no coincidence that United, Arsenal, and Spurs also make up the top three in terms of their cash reserves.
In 2019/20 about 45% of Premier League matches were won by the home team and 30% by the away team, a significant difference but perhaps not as high as one might expect.
Home advantage has gradually been eroded away over the years, possibly because footballers are now fine-tuned athletes and therefore better at adapting, or because the game is becoming more universal; all grounds boast similarly immaculate playing surfaces, while all Premier League football follows similar tactical principles.
Nevertheless, there remains an advantage. In the 11 behind-closed-doors games played in 2020 across Europe after the coronavirus hit (in Serie A, La Liga & A-League), home teams averaged 1.55 points-per-game compared to 1.45 from corresponding fixture, per Sky Sports. This sample size is too small to be statistically significant, but it makes for interesting early reading.
Whether from referees being more lenient, fan pressure, or simply the familiarity of the setting and associated psychological advantages, playing at home still gives teams an edge. Now that advantage will be gone, clearly some teams will benefit more than others.
Who benefits most/least?
The worst hit will be the relegation candidates, who almost all rely on home form for survival. Norwich (73% of total wins) and Aston Villa (71%) need their stadiums to collect points, whereas the likes of Wolves (49%) and Southampton (39%) do better on the road. The only other unexpected outliers - from a graph that shows the big clubs performing equally well home and away and smaller ones focusing on home form - are Everton (69%) and Sheffield United (49%).
But these figures cannot be trusted. There is a tactical element to this that gets thrown out of the window when everyone is playing at a neutral ground. Teams like Norwich and Villa need the psychological benefits of being at home to play their expansive possession football; Wolves and Southampton need overly-confident home teams to let them play on the counter-attack on their travels. All of that will be gone now.
More likely, the biggest beneficiaries will be the top teams. Experience playing in Europe, with its travel and inconvenience, should put them in good stead for neutral grounds without fans, while it stands to reason better footballers will also be more adaptable, and more consistent in spite of variable changes.
Alternatively, perhaps without the intensity of supporters some of the under-pressure clubs will suddenly play with freedom. What's more, those mid-table teams with nothing left to play for will surely be worse than usual, unable to motivate themselves and unwilling to risk injury (the extended break and compact schedule will make players more vulnerable than ever).
Here's a brief look at the two biggest potential winners and losers based on these predicted variables
Man Utd: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side may be freed to do what they want away from Old Trafford, namely sit back and play on the counter-attack. They tend to struggle against mid-table or lower sides because they are forced to play with possession, but that might not be the case anymore. You can still back them to make the Top Four at3.45.
Aston Villa: The other team with the biggest advantage is Villa, who welcome John McGinn back from injury and will benefit from having stopped at a low point. Reset, their simplest games were due to be away from home. Playing at neutral grounds should give them a good chance of survival. You can lay them for relegation at1.46.
Tottenham: Many fear that Premier League football will lack intensity, and that the absence of fans will create a sense of meaninglessness. That stands to hurt Jose Mourinho's side, who have looked lost and wayward throughout his tenure. They may struggle for motivation.
Norwich: Nobody needs their home advantage quite like Norwich, whose slim chance of survival was hanging on welcoming the likes of Southampton, Brighton, West Ham, and Burnley to Carrow Road. Motivation will be an issue without the home support willing on a great escape.