No place like home? Not in German Bundesliga
Various quirks of the Bundesliga's return after a hiatus of more than two months due to the coronavirus have included disinfecting match balls, banning handshakes and installing cardboard cutouts of fans, but one factor has impacted results from top to bottom -- the disappearance of home advantage.
Of the 37 fixtures played since the May 16 resumption, 22 have been won by the away sides with German clubs missing the chants from their own terraces in matches held behind closed doors.
Second-placed Borussia Dortmund lost ground on leaders Bayern Munich late last month as the Bavarians won 1-0 at an almost empty Signal Iduna Park which can hold 82,000 people and has Europe's largest standing area behind one goal.
"It's crazy, we didn't expect it would be like this," Borussia Dortmund's manager Sebastian Kehl said.
Fifth-placed Bayer Leverkusen have had experiences of both sides of the coin.
They clinched victory in all three of their games on the road including a 3-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach but the loss against Wolfsburg at their BayArena leaves them currently out of the Champions League spots on goal difference.
"I don't think it's a coincidence. The supporters help their team every time, and when we play away from home without fans it's obviously easier," Leverkusen coach Peter Bosz said.
Ambitious RB Leipzig, who sit two points ahead of Leverkusen in third, have failed to win just five times at their Red Bull Arena home this campaign.
Two of those occurences have come since the restart in draws against mid-table Freiburg and rejuvenated Hertha Berlin.
"It plays a part mostly for the teams who get their strength from the euphoria from the fans and the atmosphere in the stadium," Leipzig's sporting director Makus Kroesche said.
"Now we have the impression that the teams with better individual quality win more often," he added.
- 'No excuse' -
At the other end of the table, Union Berlin kept themselves firmly out of the relegation zone thanks to wins against the likes of Dortmund and Moenchengladbach at their Stade Alte Foesterei home earlier in the term.
The capital city outfit have lost to leaders Bayern and drawn with fellow strugglers Mainz over the past month at their ground nestled in a suburban forest and are four points from safety after being in 10th spot in February.
"You can't use it as an excuse, but I can't say that the whole year the atmosphere at the Alte Foesterei is fantastic and then say suddenly, it doesn't play a role!" Union's sporting director Oliver Ruhnert.
This weekend offers another chance for travelling sides to make the most of echoing arenas across Germany, no more so than on Saturday.
Top of the table Bayern can open up a ten-point gap on Dortmund with a win at Leverkusen, and take a further step towards a record-extending eighth straight Bundesliga title.
© 2020 AFP