No midweek with international European football goes by without a discussion about the correctness of (not) handed out red cards during the matches played. Clearly, these red cards are seen as important game changers. But is this really the case? A study in the latest edition of the scientific journal International Journal of Sports Finance put this perception to the test.
The researchers from Ghent University and Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research analysed more than 2000 recent matches in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. Home teams appear to perform remarkably worse after receiving a red card.
“After the exclusion of a player, their chances of winning the match drop by 18.8 percentage points on average. Moreover, home teams that take a red card score on average 0.3 goals less and get 0.4 goals more against them than similar teams without a red card,” said postdoctoral researcher Andrea Albanese (Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research).
Whether a red card falls sooner or later in the match, home teams always do less well after an exclusion.
Less painful for away teams
The findings for away teams are very different. On average, away teams do as well with 10 as with 11 players on the field. If a red card falls late in the game for them, they do even better.
“When away teams take a red card after minute 80, the goal balance at the end of the game is 0.235 goals more in their favor. If they take that card between minute 61 and minute 80, they do neither better nor worse afterwards. However, a red card earlier in the game is also for them associated with a lower goal balance. After such an early red card, the goal balance is 0.466 goals more to their disadvantage,” said Arne De Meyere, who collaborated to the research in the context of his Master’s thesis (Ghent University).
More complex assignment for home teams
The researchers put forward several explanations.
“The literature indicates that home teams face a more complex assignment than away teams. Partly due to the expectations of the home audience, they are often expected not only to deliver a good end result, but also to show a more offensive style of play. Adapting to the player dismissal may be more difficult given that more complex task,” said Professor Stijn Baert (Ghent University).
For away teams, after a (late) red card, the motivation may be higher. Greater efforts, a better team spirit and more concentration can put them on the track of a better end result.
The investigation used the freely consultable match reports of all official UEFA Champions League matches between September 2008 and May 2015 and of all UEFA Europa League games between September 2011 and May 2015.
The empirical analysis controlled in different ways for the relative strength of the home and away teams and for game dynamics other than red cards handed out.
Different robustness analyses were carried out. For example, it was checked whether the findings were not determined by penalties obtained immediately after a red card.