As he walked toward the locker room last Wednesday, a wry smile broke across Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho's face. Real Madrid had just drawn 1-1 at home with Manchester United in the Champions League's Round of 16—and you wondered if Mourinho knew something the rest of us didn't.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that United now has the upper hand. United plays the two-legged affair's next 90 minutes—and possibly 30 minutes of extra time and penalty kicks—in front of its own fans. And in soccer, as in most team sports, playing at home offers a distinct advantage. Across Europe's top five leagues, the home team tends to win between 45% and 50% of its games, while the visitors only leave with a win about 25% of the time.
The notion that playing the return leg of a Champions League matchup at home offers some kind of an edge has been a long-held truism in soccer. That is why UEFA, the governing body that organizes the Champions League, seeds teams that win their group and gives them the gift of hosting the second leg.
So playing at home is meant to be a perk. But is it?