After Paris Saint-Germain lost to Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park last month, manager Thomas Tuchel was asked for his assessment of the 2-1 defeat.
“For me, a game against Dortmund is very hard. I have to analyze it. The energy within the stadium, the atmosphere, the context. The Dortmund team are playing within that, and you can feel that in the stadium, on the pitch, but you cannot feel it outside when you watch videos.”
Tuchel continued to comment on how the atmosphere inside a football stadium can impact the players on the pitch.
“It is the same with Liverpool, for example. They will play more aggressively, and it really creates a special atmosphere. That made them even more brave and aggressive, so we watched the game a few times, obviously, so it might give some tactical solutions, but those are all a part of the context. It is quite difficult to evaluate that.”
What Tuchel is saying here is that the Dortmund players benefited from the atmosphere created by their supporters and his team was likely impacted in a negative way because you can’t prepare for the Yellow Wall by watching film.
This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who follows football or sports for that matter. Home-field advantage is very much a thing in athletics. The fans cannot execute the perfect pass or score a goal, but they can absolutely intimidate the visiting team to the point where their performance suffers while also boosting the energy level of the home team.
That’s not to say that road teams don’t win because they do. But, it takes superior talent and mental strength to overcome the opposing team and their fans. That’s why in American sports, teams play all season for home-field advantage and why in football, teams prefer to top their UEFA Champions League group so that the second leg of the Round of 16 is in their stadium…in front of their supporters.
I say all of this because, on Monday, it could be decided that PSG’s home match against Dortmund could be played behind closed doors without any fans in the stadium.
The cause of the change is due to the worldwide spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus). On Sunday, the French Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, announced that gatherings in the country of more than 1,000 people are banned. There’s been no official word regarding the match on Wednesday night but it’s certainly not looking good for those who planned to be at the Parc des Princes for the most important game of the season.
For me, banning fans from the stadium would put PSG at a distinct disadvantage against Dortmund. They’re trying to avoid a fourth consecutive exit in the Round of 16 of the Champions League and they face an uphill battle against the Germans who won the first leg in front of their supporters.
PSG has experienced some devastating losses in the Champions League in the past, both home and away, and they’ll need all the help they can get from the stands to exorcise those demons. They played nearly perfect in the group stage to earn this deciding match in Paris and to have their home-field advantage ripped away just doesn’t feel right.
If you’re going to tell me that the fans don’t matter and it’s only about the tactics on the pitch, then what is all of this in the stands for then? Why sing, wave flags, light flares, make banners, etc.? The truth is they do matter and they do make a difference. They’re not everything but it is a major chapter in the longer story of a match.
Ultimately, it’s a difficult decision for the French government and health officials. Their priority is public safety and not a football match. However, if the match is set to be played behind closed doors, I would prefer it to be postponed (like last Saturday’s fixture against RC Strasbourg) instead until the fans are allowed to return to the stadium. It’s the only way to ensure the tie is fair across both legs.
As the saying goes, “football is nothing without fans.”
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