The health crisis caused by the pandemic has stopped the daily lives of millions of people. The football industry has been no stranger to this paralysis. The return of the different leagues around Europe almost three months later started with including a change in the regulation that allows a maximum of 5 substitutions per game. Some teams did play this rule out to their advantage given the depth of their squad. However, the most important novelty is that all the remaining games of the Champions League also will be played without supporters inside empty stadiums.
It certainly has an impact on the performances of players and referees given the lack of spectators and neutralising the home ground.
In 110 games played in La Liga since the restart without an audience, we can see almost a balance between home and away wins from the stats, in the empty stadiums scenario. The results of the review are relevant to the Inverted-U theory. There were recorded 45 home wins with 40.9% weightage, 35 Away wins with 31.81% weightage and 30 draws making for the remaining 27.27%.
Advantage of playing
The advantage of playing at the home ground is measured by the percentage of points earned by the teams over the total points won.
From the table given below, we can see that only 11 teams were at a home advantage from their total games played. Only Real Madrid had a 100% record win at home, followed by Athletic Madrid at an 80% record and with FCBarcelona only at 60%. This 40% margin surely cost FCBarcelona their third title win in a row. Not only it has an effect on the players, but also on the referee’s decision making.
The picture becomes more clear when we take a look at away games as well. Looking at the table below we can see that nine teams came out with the advantage of playing at away ground. Villareal and Real Madrid lead the way with 80%. Both teams had a great campaign overall, making use of their depth in the squad to their advantage. Whereas, five teams couldn’t even register a single win at away ground. One of the teams from that is, Getafe. They were one of the hottest aspects in La Liga before break under Jose Bordala’s management but post break, they completely lost the momentum, costing them to secure a place for next year Champions League. Another team, Valencia’s poor run can’t be blamed at spectators entirely. The turmoil began with the sacking of their coach Marcelino. The only positive highlight for them was beating Barcelona 2-0, at Mestalla, the first home win for them since 2007 against Blaugrana.
The graphs below depict that only eight teams were at an advantage for playing at home. Athletic Madrid leads the way with 80%, followed by FCBarcelona who was only at 60%. Fans at Camp Nou do represent a big culture impacting performances. Pitch conditions and Intimidation factor is really important while playing home games. Blaugrana largely chose to play their dynamic tiki-taka play, on grass that is short and wet in order for the ball to run smoothly around the pitch. With the loss of 40% of the total points available at home ground, playing at away grounds would have been more difficult.
The presence of spectators is one factor, surely not the only one. We can’t let go of the fact that teams had less rest within games as well. Certainly, playing 110 games in a span of 39 days is not easy. It leaves less time to correct failures, change of strategy, and recover from the matchday. It adds more fatigue and stress to the teams with less depth in their squad.
In summary, it is very probable that playing one-legged matches and with no fans at the stadiums, the positive effect of playing at the home ground is reduced and that it may affect the final result of the champion league games. The only positive is, coaches have gotten enough time on their watch already to prepare their teams very well to face this new competition atmosphere which completely differs from the one they are used to.
In any case, such findings don’t include the probable scenarios of rivals level and injuries that can influence the outcome of any competition. It will be interesting to see how things pan out in this campaign of the Champions League which start’s tonight.
The psychology at Barcelona: A leaf out of Jurgen Klopp’s book
Guest Contributor: Darren Looney
“When I came here, the size of the club was a burden. Now it’s our safety net, it’s our trampoline, it’s our home, it’s our basis, it’s everything to us. Now we are Liverpool before the club was Liverpool and we were just the guys who were trying to be good enough”.
In Melissa Reddy’s book ‘Believe Us’, Jurgen Klopp, the man who led Liverpool to become champions of England, Europe and the world, details how a change in psychology from having the clubs past success being used as a noose around their necks to becoming fully confident individuals, helped the club end their 30-year wait for a league title.
FC Barcelona has a noose of its own hanging over the Camp Nou at present. It has been placed there by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, having left the club in a state that is unable to match the success seen over the last two decades.
The incoming president and manager will be the ones left to cut it free, and with limited economic resources to do this, a change in the mindsets of the lads could play a part in helping the club get the most out of what they already have.
Barcelona’s current state
The Josep Maria Bartomeu’s presidency oversaw a circus rather than a football club. In this timeframe, Barcelona lost the respect of its fellow European giants through humiliating performances in the Champions League, selling Neymar Jr. to Paris Saint Germain, poor recruitment, and a squad constantly breaking under pressure.
Players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, and Ousmane Dembele, of those that started in the latest Champions League match, have all been through the most of these embarrassing moments, which has no doubt left some trauma.
Others in the squad have laid witness to Bartomeu disregarding the club’s motto ‘MÉS QUE UN CLUB’ with his handling of club legends Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s transfer situations in the summer. That could not have inspired the non-senior members of the squad with any confidence.
Adding to that, players like Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Junior Firpo, and Antoine Griezmann have had their names constantly attached to rumoured player plus cash deals, such as the Neymar offers, which can lead to them questioning if they are good enough. This is the sort of psychology you do not want around a club trying to compete.
When asked about whether a sports psychologist would benefit FC Barcelona back in December, Barça manager Ronald Koeman stated, “I don’t believe in psychologists and mental [issues]. If you play for Barca, pressure exists, you know that, and you have to overcome it”.
This answer shows the Dutchman’s ignorance of the importance of a player’s psychological state. Additionally, it also shows arrogance about the club and the stress that comes binding with it. Ignorance that is evident in the pictures of Lenglet, as he left the Camp Nou after Sunday’s match in tears, most likely due to a lack of support. The kind of lack of support that eventually leads to careers dissolving.
In the same press conference, Koeman stated that “this team has enough personality and experience” to get through bad moments. This “experience” is also susceptible to being psychologically overwhelmed, the dressing room at halftime at Anfield is evidence of this.
Whether it is Koeman or the next president’s manager, one will have to get a hold of this problem. Luckily for them, the blueprint of how much power the manager can have over this can be seen in the place Jordi Alba shed his tears.
The Jurgen Klopp effect
When Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool, one of the first things he addressed was a change in psychology from the supporters. He wanted the fans to believe in the process, and in his first press conference, he enforced this by saying, “we need to feel the confidence and trust of the people”.
In ‘Believe Us’, Klopp speaks about the psychological state he found the players in when he first arrived. He claims that “The players were obviously listening to all the voices saying they are not good enough for the club or that I can’t wait to get rid of them.” A situation some Barca players find themselves in now, as mentioned earlier.
One of the German’s first instructions was for the players to pay no attention to comments outside of him and his coaching staff, a message that took longer than expected to resonate, as the team collapsed in the title race halfway through the next season.
Klopp explains that the collapse was down to the players not complying with this request. The German explained how the players were focused on people saying, “they don’t have a plan B for deep-defending sides, they can only play one way”. A criticism that Cúlers this season know too well.
Klopp emphasises the importance a strong mentality within games had on the Red’s fortunes and claims new players alone would not have been enough. This is a note worth taking for those looking at Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to change Barcelona’s fortunes.
It took Klopp years to convince some players that they were good enough to play for a club as big as Liverpool. New players added to the quality of the squad but that psychological attitude to keep going for the full 90 minutes, no matter the score, is what led the club to their recent success. This was visible countless times over last season as well, as Pool continued to take hits at teams till the last minute till they eventually broke. Barcelona, too, have been on the receiving end of their incredible mentality.
Koeman might be right in that the players do not need a sports psychologist. However, Lenglet’s incident exhibits that the psychological state of his players is something that he must take control of and not ignore.
Next season has the potential to be an important one for Barcelona’s near future. With a new president at the helm and a potential new manager. The Catalan side needs to banish the psychological doubts leftover by Bartomeu’s reign and move forward as one unit.
The fans and players need to get behind the project put in place, as Jurgen Klopp puts it “when you agree on a common idea and work towards it together, you can create something special”.