With Project Restart edging ever closer, football fans have peered into the Premier League’s future through the lens of the Bundesliga’s return.
A few things have stayed the same; Bayern Munich are galavanting towards an eighth successive title and the likes of Jadon Sancho and Timo Werner continue to attract plenty of attention ahead of potential big-money summer moves.
But as Erling Haaland scored the first goal of Borussia Dortmund’s opener against Schalke, the sight of socially-distant celebrations accompanied by the absence of the traditional bellowing of Dortmund’s ‘Yellow Wall’ conveyed a palpable sense of lost spectacle.
The lack of crowds has not only affected the viewing experience in the Bundesliga, but also the results. Without fans to roar their team on, the advantages enjoyed by the home team appear to have diminished.
Remarkably, out of the 37 games played in the Bundesliga so far, more than half have been won by the away side.
Some sides have sought innovative solutions to recreate their old atmosphere. Borussia Monchengladbach, for a small charge of €19 euros, have offered fans the chance to have cardboard cutouts of themselves inside the stadium.
Danish side AGF took it a step further, inviting 10,000 fans to take part in a ‘zoom watch party.’ Fans were taken from sofa to screen, their video feed projected into the stadium accompanied by their shouts and screams blaring through the loudspeaker.
Cardboard cutouts and zoom parties aside, the nullification of home advantage promises to be a major obstacle for Premier League sides, especially those fighting relegation. It’s the same concern that saw many teams at the bottom of the table oppose neutral venues.
John Fawell, vice-chairman of the Watford Supporters’ Trust, said that playing games-behind-closed doors hurts the integrity of the game.
He said: “I have stopped watching the Bundesliga because it was so lacking in atmosphere. They were like training games.
“I think empty stadiums will hurt our chances of survival. Would Watford have ended Liverpool’s run in an empty stadium? I don’t think so.”
Logically, those who stand to benefit from fan absence are the ones with the most away games left to play. Two of these sides are top-four chasing Sheffield United and relegation-threatened Aston Villa. Both have six away games remaining and meet on the Premier League’s restart date on June 17.
Empty stadiums could also spell trouble for teams with a disproportionately strong home record. The likes Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, for example, have fared especially poorly on the road this season.
Conversely, Southampton and Chelsea are the only two sides to have been more successful on the road than at home this season. Southampton have only picked up 14 points from 15 games St Mary’s.
Finally, will we see more upsets as players rebuild their fitness? In the Bundesliga, things are going largely to script.
Of the 21 games played between teams in the top and bottom half of the table, 52.3% have been won by the side in the top half. This figure would be greater if Schalke, in sixth when the league restarted, hadn’t gone into freefall, losing all four of their fixtures so far.
The Premier League’s title race is all but over, but races for survival and European qualification are still wide open. With the table so tight, a false start like Schalke’s could have disastrous consequences.