By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Home advantage appears to be back in the Premier League, with the return of crowds bringing a feeling of normality to the game after a season that bucked the trend in England's top flight.
With the vast majority of last season being played in empty stadiums because of COVID-19 restrictions, the balance shifted to such an extent that away wins outnumbered home victories - an unprecedented scenario in the English top flight.
After seven rounds of the new campaign, statistics compiled by Nielsen Gracenote show that teams playing in front of their home fans are more likely to win.
Of the 70 matches played so far, 40% have resulted in home wins with 31% away wins.
That is a marked difference to the same stage of last season when 46% of matches had been won by visiting teams -- a pattern that continued to the end, with away wins making up 40% of results compared with 38% for home victories.
It was the first time ever in England's top four divisions that a season had more away wins than home wins.
Previously in British football, only the Scottish Premier League in 1991-92 ended with a bias towards away wins.
The levelling effect of empty stadiums was seen as a major factor, but with England's restrictions now lifted, match-day atmospheres have returned to normal.
"With no crowds allowed in Premier League stadiums last season, away teams produced better results and won 46% of the matches in the first 7 match rounds after managing only 29% a season earlier," Simon Gleave, head of sports analysis at Nielsen Gracenote, told Reuters on Tuesday.
"With crowds returning, results have returned to pre-COVID levels with 40% won by home teams and 31% by the visitors."
Total attempts on goal have also favoured home teams this season with 55% of attempts being made by the hosts.
Last season, after seven rounds there was a 50-50 split.
The return of crowds also appears to have impacted on home performance in the second-tier Championship.
"The Championship has exhibited a similar pattern to the Premier League. Away wins rose from 30% in the first 11 match rounds of 2019/2020 to 35% last season when no spectators were admitted. This season, 28% of the 132 Championship matches have resulted in an away win," Gleave said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson)