As we approach the midpoint of the English Premier League season, one statistical anomaly has lasted too long to be a coincidence.
Home comforts are meaning little this campaign, with five of the top seven EPL teams having won more away games than on their own territory. Now, it would be easy to disregard the evidence as a freak run of away results, but the evidence points more toward a shift in mentality.
When smaller teams travel to places like Anfield and Stamford Bridge, it is generally accepted that they have little chance of victory. Therefore, common tactics involve highly defensive, game-killing techniques aimed at shutting the opposition down at any price.
Faced with a hastily erected blockade in front of them, the giants of English soccer have been, in many cases, unable to beat the door down with the power and precision of their sparkling play. League leader Liverpool has been held to draws at home to Stoke, Fulham, Hull and West Ham, yet the Reds still maintained their advantage at the head of the table.
Chelsea's long unbeaten run at home came to an end against Liverpool and was followed by another defeat, soon after, to Arsenal. However, the Blues' season has been saved by their amazing away form with eight straight victories out of eight.
Much of the reason behind the discrepancy is based around tactics.
The likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Aston Villa are comfortable sitting back, then counterattacking with blistering pace. But they often only get the chance to do so away from home, as the host tries to press forward and chase the game.
Right now, the challenge of maintaining consistent home form and unpicking a defense-minded opponent is crucial to the title hopefuls. The two-point difference between victory and a draw could be pivotal in the final reckoning as this intriguing title race boils up nicely.
1. Get him an Advil
Andrei Arshavin could be in for a tense standoff with his current club Zenit St. Petersburg before he can complete a dream move to Western Europe.
The brilliant Russian playmaker, who was sensational against Holland at Euro 2008, is one of the most sought-after players in the world, with Barcelona and Bayern Munich both taking a close look. However, recent financial uncertainty means Zenit may not get the $40 million it is believed to want in return for its best player and could hold out for the maximum price.
Arshavin has been quoted as saying he will refuse to play for Zenit in the future if he is not transferred. The drawn-out saga that is likely to follow will cast an unfortunate shadow over one of Europe's brightest stars.
2. Get him a beer
Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was a figure of fun a few weeks back after a string of miserable displays. But the Brazilian retained the faith of new Spurs boss Harry Redknapp and has come up with some spectacular performances, including last Saturday's 0-0 draw with Manchester United.
Gomes' agility and reflexes have always been first-rate. Yet it is his mental strength that saw him through a torrid time.
3. Get him some earplugs
Juergen Klinsmann's assertion that the huge levels of debt carried by some clubs in England and Spain could put a dent in the future success of the EPL and La Liga will be treated with derision and maybe outright laughter in some quarters.
It would take an almighty shift for European dominance at club level to move toward Germany as Klinsmann suggested in media interviews last week. However, just while no one knows for sure what the full extent of the global credit crunch will be (certainly, some big clubs in England and Spain will have some rocky times ahead), it is equally impossible to predict its impact on the world game.
4. Four corners
• Am I the only one looking forward to Jose Mourinho's response to this?
• Should they just hand Barcelona the La Liga trophy now and get it over with?
• Can anyone possibly stop Manchester United from winning the FIFA Club World Cup?
• Could the Mexican Apertura championship game on Sunday have been any more thrilling?
5. Catch a flight to …
Switzerland. European soccer's power brokers assemble in Nyon on Friday to watch a man stick his hand in a bowl and pull out some plastic balls. The draw for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League promises to produce some mouth-watering contests to look forward to when the competition recommences in February.
6. A round of applause for …
• Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Fernando Torres, Xavi and Kaka: They're the five candidates shortlisted for the World Player of the Year award. All have been outstanding, but surely it's a two-man race between Ronaldo and Messi.
• Graham Zusi: His game-winning goal clinched the NCAA Men's College Cup for Maryland against North Carolina.
• Michel Platini: The UEFA president blocked proposals for future European Championships to be hosted by three countries. Now if only legislation could be passed restricting joint bids, then the tournament would go on to even greater success.
7. Get them a Kleenex
• Marek Jankulovski: The AC Milan defender had a nightmare, giving away a penalty and turning in a horrible performance as Juventus ran riot with a 4-2 win.
• Ukraine soccer: Maxim Pashayev, the captain of the Ukraine under-21 team, died last week after his car slid off an icy road.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
The 39th game – again. EPL chief Richard Scudamore faced a giant backlash when he suggested implementing an extra game to be played at foreign venues. Now the league has teamed up with the Asian Football Confederation, much of the opposition has died down and this pioneering step looks to have a big chance of getting approved.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Paul Ince. The Blackburn Rovers boss has lost six league games in a row and is on the verge of being fired. Touted as a bright young manager when he was brought in during the summer, Ince has seen things turn sour very quickly.
10. Get excited about …
Napoli's unexpected challenge in the Italian Serie A, in only its second season back in the top flight. This sleeping giant has slumbered for too long and is starting to make waves.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Because you get to spend a fortune on Christmas like Cristiano Ronaldo.
- English Premier League
- Cristiano Ronaldo