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Pitch dimensions - Is there any mileage in the small ground theory?

 

Twice in the last month I’ve been watching the Premier League and either commentators or managers have come out and declared that the size of the pitch, directly affected the tactics of the opposition and therefore the outcome of the match. I’m just going to have a look at both cases objectively and see if there’s any truth in these statements, or whether the pitch size card is just a tactic used by managers to deflect from the real reason they lost. I will also take a look at Tottenham and how Wembley may affect them next year.

 

Pitch Myth 1 – ‘Man City thrived at the London Stadium on West Ham’s large pitch’


First of all, I want to look at all the pitch dimensions of the 20 Premier league teams. It is true that the London stadium is bigger than the Boleyn ground but by how much? And did Man City benefit from this extra space.


Here’s a list of the pitch dimensions taken from the Official Premier League page:

 

Team

Stadium

Pitch area

Arsenal

Emirates Stadium

105m x 68m

Bournemouth

Vitality Stadium

105m x 68m

Hull

KC Stadium

105m x 68m

Manchester City

Etihad Stadium

105m x 68m

Manchester United

Old Trafford

105m x 68m

Middlesbrough

Riverside Stadium

105m x 68m

Southampton

St Mary's Stadium

105m x 68m

Stoke

bet365 Stadium

105m x 68m

Sunderland

Stadium of Light

105m x 68m

Swansea

Liberty Stadium

105m x 68m

Watford

Vicarage Road

105m x 68m

West Brom

The Hawthorns

105m x 68m

West Ham

London Stadium

105m x 68m

Burnley

Turf Moor

103.51m x 65.01m

Chelsea

Stamford Bridge

103m x 67.5m

Liverpool

Anfield

101m x 68m

Leicester

King Power Stadium

100.58m x 67.67m

Crystal Palace

Selhurst Park

100.56m x 67.67m

Everton

Goodison Park

100.48m x 68m

Tottenham

White Hart Lane

100m x 67m

 

 

In 2012, the Premier League introduced a rule to standardise pitch size. This was a reaction to Stoke City, who under Pulis were narrowing the pitch for PL games and Delap’s long thrown ins, but having to widen it in the Europa League games to comply with their regulations. “Unless otherwise permitted by the board, in league matches the length of the pitch shall be 105 metres and its breadth 68 metres,”.


13 of the 20 teams now have the standardised pitch size with White Hart Lane the smallers at 100m x 67m.


Anyway, back to pitch myth 1, the London Stadium is significantly bigger than the Boleyn ground which was 100.58m x 68m but it’s exactly the same as Man City’s home pitch? Why then did the commentators think the pitch is bigger? They mentioned it at least four times. Well I think most of this small pitch / big pitch equation comes down to the closeness of the stands to the playing surface. At the Olympic stadium there are huge distances to the crowd and this makes the place less intimidating and feel more open. So even though the pitch is the same, it can feel a lot bigger. What we are witnessing here is a perception illusion

 
For more fun perception illusions click the link here

 

 

Pitch Myth 2 – ‘Burnley’s small pitch made it easier to play long balls against Chelsea’


After the Burnely v Chelsea game in the post match interviews, Conte was asked why he thinks Burnley are so good at home, here’s his response.

 

Conte said: 'The pitch is small and this is better for the team that has to defend and play this long ball. 'You have less pitch to cover and then there is a good atmosphere with the supporters and I think it's good.
'It's right to have this type of atmosphere at Burnley and for all these reasons they have all these points in the table. We found a team that thought to disrupt our football, to play this long ball and to fight the second ball.'


Let’s break this down


1.    The pitch is small – yes it’s smaller than the standard by very small margin but is still bigger than Stanford Bridge
2.    There is less pitch to cover – Turf Moor is the narrowest pitch at 65 metres, but Conte was implying it was the long ball not the cross field balls that their game plan was based on.
3.    There’s a good atmosphere with the supporters – this is the point I agree with Conte on… Turf Moor is a traditional tight stadium and the supporters feel on top of you. The perception illusion makes the pitch feel even smaller, the opposite to the London Stadium.


So I think we can say myth busted here, Turf Moor is actually bigger than Stanford Bridge, however the narrower pitch may have made a small insignificant role in the long ball tactics.

 

Pitch Myth 3 – ‘Tottenham are struggling at Wembley with the huge Wembley surface’


As we’ve seen earlier, Tottenham have the smallest pitch in the Premier League. Wembley has the standardised 105 x 68 surface. Overall the pitch is 6% bigger than White Hart Lane. Spurs have a tremendous record at WHL, it’s a tight small stadium with great support and an intimidating place for away teams. Wembley feels like a cup final, players dream of playing at Wembley. Wembley is vast, 90,000 fans, miles away from the pitch with a corporate ring of club Wembley disrputing any atmosphere to build between the upper and lower tiers. 


I think of all three myths, this is the one that holds the most water. Tottenham have found it difficult to adjust to Wembley but I think this is probably due to familiarity, the perception illusion (feels less intimidating as stands are much further from the pitch) the pitch size and also the pitch quality. Against Leverkusen the pitch was terrible. The ball doesn’t roll as well as WHL, it doesn’t zip of the surface. They aren’t allowed to water the surface at half time or before the game and I think the ball can tend to stick in the surface as there is a high amount of friction with the ball.


In conclusion, it’s probably not pitch size that is important, it’s how close the fans are to the pitch that probably makes the difference.


If you have any comments please get in touch.

 

Good luck

 

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