Raiders feel right at home in away ties

Crystal Palace's pacey Bakary Sako giving the Chelsea backline, including left-back Cesar Azpilicueta, a torrid afternoon in a 2-1 upset at Stamford Bridge last month. Palace have triumphed in both their two away league games so far, with their poten
Crystal Palace's pacey Bakary Sako giving the Chelsea backline, including left-back Cesar Azpilicueta, a torrid afternoon in a 2-1 upset at Stamford Bridge last month. Palace have triumphed in both their two away league games so far, with their potent counter-attacking line-up paying dividends.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Visiting teams have logged 17 wins so far in EPL, compared to only nine home victories

Perhaps it should be called home disadvantage. This has been a season to challenge the notion that home is sweet. Supposed fortresses have been stormed with regularity.

Raiders from far afield have returned to their own bases with unexpected gains.

Because so far in the Premier League, there have been nine home wins and 17 away victories. Thirteen teams are yet to taste victory on their own turf. Only four rounds of games have gone, with only Manchester City and Swansea City having 100 per cent home records.

Three clubs, including Arsenal, have not even scored a goal in front of their own fans. Chelsea, who had lost only one of their first 99 home league games under Jose Mourinho, were defeated in the most recent.

The easiest explanation is, to use the statistician's vogue phrase, to attribute it to a small sample size. Only 40 games have been played and 340 remain. Come May, home wins will surely outnumber away victories. Yet, there is a broader trend.

 

  • 13
    English Premier League clubs have yet to win at home this season


    EPL teams - Arsenal, Watford and Stoke - have not even scored at home

At this stage 12 months ago, there had been only 12 home victories. That was a record low for the opening four rounds of matches.

It has gone down again.

While a Stamford Bridge setback for Mourinho could be dismissed as a freak scoreline and some results are the consequence of silly sendings-off incurred by home players such as Newcastle's Aleksandar Mitrovic and the Stoke duo of Ibrahim Afellay and Charlie Adam, themes are being underlined.

Most clearly, there is the potency of counter-attacking teams. It is no coincidence that the three 100 per cent away records belong to City, Arsenal and Crystal Palace.

The common denominators are pace on the break and players who can pick a pass.

Palace illustrate the growing confidence of bold travellers. They possess a surfeit of high-speed wingers in Yannick Bolasie, Bakary Sako, Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon, who are potential scorers.

They have added a playmaker in Yohan Cabaye.

They have recorded eight away wins in 10 trips under Alan Pardew.

City's shift from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 is also significant. As managers have realised that fielding two strikers enables opponents to outnumber them in midfield, they have reduced their contingent of out-and-out strikers.

Yet, with the exceptions of Sergio Aguero and a below-par Diego Costa, the Premier League lacks genuine world-class forwards. A recurring issue is that home sides with a comparatively blunt forward line are not converting possession and pressure into goals.

Arsenal have had 62 and 66 percent of the ball in matches at the Emirates Stadium and are yet to find the net, statistics that show how much they could have benefited from signing a striker of Karim Benzema's calibre.

Manchester United had 69 per cent of possession at home against Newcastle. They drew 0-0.

The comparative shortage of poachers who can prosper in a crowded penalty box is highlighted by the top scorers' leaderboard.

Some are speedy strikers, like Callum Wilson, Bafetimbi Gomis and Romelu Lukaku, who have thrived on their travels.

Others are quick wingers, like Riyad Mahrez, Andre Ayew, Nathan Redmond and Sako.

It indicates how football is changing. Counter-attacking excellence is allied to differences in defending.

Broadly, sides have fared better on the road when back fours have tended to be shielded by two, and at times even three, defensive midfielders. They have been caught on the break at home when the need to be positive has compelled them to commit players upfield.

It has highlighted the scarcity of outstanding centre-backs who can excel in either one-on-one or two-on-two situations.

However, when home teams have such fragility in defence and it is coupled with feebleness in attack, it is a recipe for away victories.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2015, with the headline 'Raiders feel right at home in away'. Print Edition | Subscribe