As most football managers will tell you: “You need to win your home games in order to have any chance of success in the league.” Recent statistics would show that this view does have validity.
In the Premier League era to date (1992 to December 2013): Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have played 414 BPL home matches and have won more than 60% of the time (United-74.6%, Arsenal- 63.5%, Chelsea-62.3%, Liverpool-61.1%); the next closest team is Newcastle at 53.4%.
(Writer’s note: In recent years, Manchester City has entered the picture following their well-publicized infusion of money from Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. But prior to the change in ownership the club was dwelling in the mid-table and had suffered a long trophy draught.)
Those are some telling statistics for what many experts have long considered a truth about the Premier League’s ‘top four’ clubs. And a look at the current table (as of Dec.27th) shows that the theory of home success is holding true once again.
After nine home matches, the current top four’s home win totals are: Arsenal (6 wins), Manchester City (9 wins), Chelsea (8 wins) and Liverpool (8 wins). These are the team which many feel will be fighting for the Premier League title and European competition right up until the final day of the season.
But it seems after their slow start, Manchester United is trying to buck the trend of home wins equating to league success.
This season, United has four wins in their nine BPL home matches (4W 2D 3L) and five wins on the road (5W 2D 2L). Their current home statistics (44.4%) are a far cry from the club’s all-time BPL home winning percentage of 74.6%. Of course we have to bear in mind that the majority of United’s home success took place under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson; the Scot won 305 of his 405 BPL home matches.
David Moyes has only just started his tenure and has the responsibility of managing one of the biggest clubs in world football, as well as replacing a legend of the sport. He also wasn’t aided by the club’s failings during the summer transfer window, underperforming players and numerous injuries to his already weak midfield/defending options.
But regardless of those points, while not performing to their expectations at Old Trafford, Manchester United has remained in striking distance of the top four by almost ‘thriving’ on the road this season
Over the years, (with an exception of the Stretford End) the atmosphere at the Theatre of Dreams has slowly become more “sterile”. As far back as November 2000, former Manchester United captain Roy Keane gave this memorable quote regarding United’s home support: “Away from home our fans are fantastic, I’d call them the hardcore fans. But at home they have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don’t realize what’s going on out on the pitch.”
It needs to be said that players win matches. But Keane did have a point. Fans play a huge role in a team’s success and Manchester United’s away support has been an advantage to the club for a long time.
Without getting into the discussion of the reasons behind the atmosphere at Old Trafford, or about which English club has the best away support; it can be said that Manchester United fans travel in abundant numbers and are extremely “vocal” on the road. They fill the club’s allotment of away tickets for every match and can be heard singing in unison well before both teams take the pitch.
And don’t think for one second that United’s players and manager don’t appreciate that level of support. Especially when they travel to stadiums like Anfield and are being shouted down by 42,000 Liverpool supporters; most notably their spirited Kop end.
To know that they have a following of 3,000 of their most loyal and passionate supporters at one end of the stadium is a huge lift for Manchester United. It has without a doubt helped the club through their difficult start to the season.
The Red Devils have won three road matches in this current stretch at some of the more ‘tricky’ English venues: Stoke City (Britannia Stadium), Aston Villa (Villa Park), and recently Hull City (KC Stadium); Hull City had entered the match only allowing three goals in their previous eight home matches.
During United’s recent five-match winning streak, the players and managers have been eager to point out their appreciation of the club’s away support. Following their win over Aston Villa, Ashley Young took to Twitter to thank United fans: “Good win for us today and great away support.” While David Moyes also expressed his thoughts on the club’s road supporters: “I’d also like to say a big thank you to our brilliant support who travelled to Villa Park – you are doing the team and club proud.”
This season more than any, it feels as if the players and manager at Manchester United are drawing strength from their away support. You can see it when United score a goal, then go racing to celebrate with their faithful road warrior fans.
United will need a huge lift from their away support when they travel to Norwich City on Saturday. They are coming off a mentally and physically draining encounter with Hull City while having only a single day’s rest in between league fixtures.
Although they have seen a handful of players trickle back into the lineup, United are still shorthanded in key areas of the pitch. Right-back Rafael looks set to miss the trip with a groin injury and Antonio Valencia is suspended for the match. Phil Jones will miss the next few weeks with a knee injury, while Robin Van Persie is nearing fitness but is a ‘doubt’ for this trip.
Once again, Manchester United will need to drown out a hostile reception and put all their focus into winning a league match on the road. Something they have been able to do up until this point of the season.
If it weren’t for their away form and their travelling supporters, Manchester United wouldn’t be in striking distance of the top four.
Things have steadily turned around for the club in recent weeks. United fans are hoping they won’t have to rely on their road success much longer. Because they would be defying recent Premier League trends if they finished the season in the top four with a higher winning percentage on the road as opposed to at home.