The 2013 Barclays Premiership season is set to kick off, and the anticipation is palpable. Tabloids are full of last-minute transfer gossip, whetting the appetites of a football-starved nation. Bookies are drawing up odds for fixtures based on the teams’ line-ups, current form, and the expected weather conditions. Factoring in the stadium forecasts for each game is a huge part of sports handicapping. But how do the playing conditions affect the beautiful game? Allow me to explain…
Whilst a greased (slightly wet) surface will favour the more ‘footballing’ team, very wet weather – e.g. heavy rain – can act as an equaliser, balancing out the contest. A waterlogged pitch will favour the team that adopts the long ball tactic, as any flick-on from a big centre forward (such as Newcastle’s Andy Carroll) could potentially lead to a goal.
A deluge will result in more mistimed tackles and more fouls being committed, more cards and possibly more sending offs. The game will likely feature a high number of free kicks within the final third, benefiting the team with a good dead-ball specialist (e.g. Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard). Shots are taken from longer range, as goalkeepers are more prone to making errors, tending more to parry the ball.
In other words, wet weather is typically a boon to the underdog, and so a game played on a sodden pitch is far harder to predict, even if on paper the teams seem unfairly matched.
Football is one of the few sports that is sometimes played in frosty or snowy conditions. In this situation the ball hardens and becomes trickier to control or get any purchase on. This will favour the more technically skilled group of players who are better at controlling and passing the ball.
Subzero temperatures also tend to result in more serious injuries. The ground is harder and less likely to yield, resulting in ankle sprains and other ligament damage. Equally the likelihood of hamstring, calf, and groin injuries is increased in cold weather due to players not being adequately warmed up. In the long run this will impact the teams with smaller squads more than those with big budgets and deeper squads.
A team used to playing in a hot climate (e.g. in La Liga) will have difficulty adjusting to the tempo at which a more northerly (e.g. Russian) team typically plays at. The flipside of this is if the second leg is played in hot, humid conditions, then player fitness and endurance become a critical factor for away team, especially if the game runs into extra time. Dehydration becomes a problem, with cramps and lactic acid setting in quicker due to a loss of minerals from sweating.
The 2010 world cup in South Africa was a great example of the effects that altitude can have on a game. At higher altitudes, the lower pressure and the thinner atmosphere will cause the ball to travel further. During the South Africa World Cup, the Adidas ‘Jabulani’ ball was criticised for having an erratic trajectory, but the vast changes in altitude could have also been responsible for the ball’s unpredictable movement through the air – a theory espoused by Fabio Capello.