For long, fans have been considered as the biggest factor behind home advantage. Of course, there are other factors at play: the width of the pitch, familiarity with external factors, weather and just the psychological factor for the players. But fans still play a huge role.
But ever since the coronavirus pandemic began, football's new normal has meant fans were kept away from stadiums (for the most part) and their natural buzz was replaced with fake crowd noise. For the players, it took some getting used to. "It doesn't have the same feeling, of course," Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud told ESPN. "It's really strange at first, and then you try to get used to it. It has less charm to play with no fans. Also, the pitch feels much bigger with no fans in the stadium! It is crazy to say because it is the same pitch, but it does feel bigger! The bearings and points of reference are not the same," he added.
Bundesliga was the first to return from COVID-19-enforced lockdown. On 16 May, Borussia Dortmund easily swept aside Schalke stalked by a shadow of the new normal: empty stands, substitutes sitting apart, no hugging or handshakes, no spitting, and masks for the coaching staff. As other leagues returned, first in Spain followed by England and Italy, some of the regulations were relaxed, especially with celebrations, but fans were kept out for good. There are no concrete plans to have them back either.
But how much of an impact did the absence of fans have on outcomes? We looked at data from German Bundesliga, English Premier League, Spanish LaLiga and Italian Serie A to understand how the fate of visiting teams changed when they're not being mouthed off by a cacophonous home crowd.
Bundesliga and LaLiga witnessed a drop in home wins after the season resumed. Premier League didn't witness much of a change in outcomes to close out the remaining 92 games of the season. Serie A, emerged as the anomaly, with its season concluding the last. The home wins increased to fill the gap caused by a drop in away wins.
In Germany, the first part of the season observed 43.30% home wins, 34.82% away wins and 21.88% draws which shifted to 32.10%, 44.44% and 23.46% respectively in the second part. If home teams were averaging 1.75 goals per game before May, it dropped to 1.44 after it. The number of away goals saw an uptick: 1.50 to 1.65 per game.
Let's shift attention to LaLiga. The number of away goals saw an increase with no fans in attendance with the average going from 1.02 to 1.07 which resulted in share of away wins rising by 7% (24.4% to 31.82%), while home wins went in the other direction by the same percentage.
In England, Premier League remained more or less the same even without fans for its final 92 games of the 2019-20 season. Home wins increased by 1.95%, away wins by 1.32% while there were fewer stalemates (3.26%). The number of goals that each game was producing, coincidentally, remained the same sans people in stadiums.
In complete reverse of the trend seen in LaLiga, Serie A had 4% more home wins with away wins reducing by the same figure. The draws remained largely the same. The number of goals, however, saw a significant spike: from 2.91 goals per game to 3.29 after the break. 35% of the goals of the season came in the final 124 games (or 32%) of the season. 24 games produced at least five goals since the lockdown, or 19.35% of the games. Earlier, 38 games were goalfests or 14.8% of the total games played at the time.
Specifically, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig all picked up three points each from their trips. Norwich, Watford and SPAL came out on the other end of the result: losing all their away games.
10 Bundesliga clubs improve away record
Bayern Munich won all their away games in Bundesliga. AP
10 of 18 Bundesliga clubs improved on their away record when playing in empty arenas. Augsburg, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig, Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Mainz and Werder Bremen all improved on the road. Meanwhile, Borussia MÃ¶nchengladbach, Freiburg, Hertha Berlin, Schalke, FC Koln, Union Berlin, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Paderborn were worse off after the break when they travelled. Of this list, only MÃ¶nchengladbach and Freiburg finished the season in the top half of the standings.
Bayern, Dortmund and Leipzig collected wins on each of their trips away with BVB and Bremen improving the most of the lot. If Dortmund were averaging 1.62 points earlier, they improved to three points each time later. The same way, Bremen were collecting a single point, on average, earlier but improved to 2.25 points away later picking up wins against Freiburg, Schalke, Paderborn before going down to Mainz.
On the other side of the comparison, Freiburg, Schalke, Koln, Union Berlin, Dusseldorf and Paderborn returned, on average, with less than a point from their visits. Schalke (0.20) and Koln (0.25) were the first away teams since the resumption. Schalke and Koln both drew one " vs Union Berlin and Augsburg respectively " and lost the remaining.
12 clubs do better away in LaLiga after pandemic break
Real Madrid were the most effective away team in LaLiga after the lockdown. AP
Bundesliga had a bigger shift as a whole with away games but more LaLiga teams improved on their visits than the German league. 12 Spanish clubs: Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Celta Vigo, Eibar, Granada, Leganes, Levante, Osasuna, Real Madrid, Sevilla and Villarreal fared better away in empty stadiums than they were earlier. Meanwhile, Deportivo Alaves, Espanyol, Getafe, Real Betis, Real Mallorca, Real Sociedad, Real Valladolid and Valencia saw a drop. Of this list, only Real Sociedad (6th), Getafe (8th), and Valencia (9th) finished among the top half.
Eventual champions Real Madrid and Villarreal were the most effective teams away picking up an average of 2.60 and 2.40 points when travelling. Barcelona, who let their lead slip, weren't too far away with 2.33 points although they didn't help their title chances with draws at Sanchez Pizjuan and Balaidos. When comparing the two parts of the season, Granada and Villarreal benefitted the most from lack of fans when going around Spain.
Seven teams were miserable on their trips away. Alaves, Espanyol, Getafe, Betis, Mallorca, Valladolid and Valencia picked up less than a point on an average. The trio of Betis, Mallorca and Valencia picked up on an average just 0.17 points in away games. A comparison between "COVID-League" and LaLiga would also make clear how Getafe, once harbouring European football ambition, finished eighth. They dropped points both home and away, scored lesser home and away, but the bigger difference came on their trips: 6 played, 0 wins, 3 draws (Valladolid, Osasuna and Alaves), 3 losses (Granada, Real Madrid and Levante) for just three points out of a possible 18.
10 clubs improve, 10 clubs drop away in Premier League
Premier League clubs remained in their state of inertia even when it comes to results in away games. 10 teams improved from the non-lockdown period and 10 saw a drop.
Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley, Everton, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Southampton, Tottenham and West Ham United all showed better form away when the season resumed.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Norwich, Sheffield United, Watford and Wolves witnessed a drop in average away points collected when the fans were barred from entering stadiums.
Manchester United (2.60) and Southampton (2.20) collected the most points on average in the second part of the season. Norwich and Watford came out on the other side of the stat with 0 points away " losing all four games.
Manchester United and Brighton improved the most in average away points collected, seeing a 1.46 and 1.27 point jump, when comparing the two parts to the pandemic affected season. Leicester City and Liverpool each dropped by 1.24 average points.
Serie A clubs start to win more at home
If Bundesliga and LaLiga were going the way of the away team and there wasn't much of a difference in the Premier League, Serie A bucked the trend and there were more home wins than earlier.
Nine clubs in Italy improved and 11 clubs dropped in average points collected when playing away. AC Milan, Fiorentina, Genoa, Inter Milan, Parma, Roma, Sampdoria, Sassuolo and Udinese were better off away when the season got going once again.
Atalanta, Bologna, Brescia, Cagliari, Juventus, Lazio, Lecce, Napoli, SPAL, Torino and Verona dropped in returns from away games.
The two Milan clubs were equally splendid when playing away " picking up 2.33 points on an average. Atalanta, Roma and Udinese were not too far off with two points on an average. Udinese, who finished 13th, were the most improved side when playing away.
SPAL and Brescia were the most woeful sides when travelling in the lockdown. They picked up 0 and 0.17 points on an average, respectively. Lazio and Juventus, champions for ninth straight time, were the poorest when comparing the two parts to the season. The Rome based club dropped by 1.17 points on an average and Juve by 0.83 but made up with more points when playing home.
Seven clubs in the Serie A collected more points away on average than they did at home when the season resumed. Earlier, nine clubs had fared better away than they were at home.