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5th January 2020

Science Premier League fixture congestion ‘absurd’ as teams count Christmas cost

Science Premier League fixture congestion ‘absurd’ as teams count Christmas cost


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We throw football at people – Klopp on fixture congestion

January sees many of us count the cost of Christmas.

There are those who have spent too much, others who have eaten too much and then there are Premier League bosses generally frustrated by playing too much.

Some managers felt four games in 12 days was “absurd” and one club has been hit by injuries which look set to keep some of their players out for around a combined 500 days.

In all, 74 players picked up anything from a niggle to a serious injury as most teams played four fixtures between 21 December and 2 January. That means around six Premier League players were injured every 24 hours across the 13-day period.

Using data compiled by injury data analyst Ben Dinnery, founder of Premier Injuries, BBC Sport has examined which clubs and players felt the festive strain.

No miracles as injuries pile up

According to Dinnery’s data, there were 214 Premier League injuries requiring 10 days or more of recovery between August and December. The festive-period figure of 74 over 13 days also accounts for injuries requiring less than 10 days of recovery.

Newcastle were in a league of their own in clocking up nine injuries over Christmas and managed to lose five players in a single defeat by Leicester on Boxing Day.

Manager Steve Bruce now has just one of his six central defenders available for Saturday’s FA Cup third-round tie at Rochdale.

He said: “I did predict a month ago that the schedule was ridiculous and we don’t have the resources to have huge rotation.”

In all, Premier League teams registered 500 players for the 2019-20 season along with 1,013 under-21 players. The 74 injuries over Christmas accounts for around 5% of all players eligible to play in the league at the start of the campaign.

League leaders Liverpool played just three times during the period after returning from their Club World Cup triumph in Qatar, and manager Jurgen Klopp said: “Sports science and sports medicine is [in] a good place, but they cannot do miracles and we cannot have 30- or 40-player squads. That’s not possible.”

‘Very sorry’ spell for Villa

Some clubs have not specified how long certain players are out for. So of the 74 reported injuries, 19 have no recovery timeframe attached to them.

So while Crystal Palace saw five festive injuries, only Martin Kelly and Wilfried Zaha were diagnosed with four-day recovery periods, meaning injuries sustained by Patrick van Aanholt, Christian Benteke and Mamadou Sakho are not accounted for in the graph above.

“The injury list has been added to with Mamadou Sakho pulling his hamstring against Norwich,” said Palace manager Roy Hodgson. “He will be out for a considerable period.

“The problem, though, is the same – do you say we need to play what we think is near to our best team, and we put players on the field and risk that they are going to pick up an injury, or do we say we can’t afford to risk it with all the games we have coming up.

“It is a dilemma and I am still waiting for some bolt from the blue which will tell me what I need to do to solve the dilemma – but it hasn’t happened yet.”

Nowhere was the full force of Christmas fixtures felt more than Aston Villa, who lost striker Wesley and goalkeeper Tom Heaton for an estimated 482 days combined as a result of anterior cruciate ligament injuries.

“They are two key players who I feel very sorry for. We’ve had five games in 16 days and another seven to come in January,” said Villa boss Dean Smith.

The unlucky and the absurd

Arsenal defender Calum Chambers faced the same injury as Wesley and Heaton, ruling him out for an estimated 244 days according to Dinnery’s data.

Bournemouth had the double blow of losing Joshua King and Jack Stacey each for over 50 days with hamstring complaints, while Tottenham did not put a timeframe on Harry Kane’s recovery from the same issue.

Manchester United lost Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba for over 90 days combined and while Wolves reported just one injury – to forward Patrick Cutrone – the stance of their manager Nuno Espirito Santo epitomised the frustrations aired by several managers.

“I’ve never seen a situation like playing games against tough teams with 45 hours between games,” said Nuno. “It’s going to be very tough. Of course, it goes against everything – it’s absurd. There’s no explanation.”

Next month the Premier League will have its first mid-season break, where 10 matches will be played across two weekends rather than one.

Players’ union Fifpro has already called for the sport’s stakeholders to get together to discuss festive fixture congestion in a bid to “ease this pressure”.

The runners and rotators

The weekend’s FA Cup third-round ties could see countless changes to starting line-ups after a chaotic fortnight but during the festive fixtures it was Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers who shuffled his pack most, while Watford’s Nigel Pearson made the fewest changes of those teams who played four times.

Who changed their team the most?
Leicester 18
Watford 4
Source: Opta *all stats cover four festive matches and exclude Liverpool and West Ham, who played just three times.

Sheffield United suffered only a John Lundstram ankle sprain over Christmas despite running further than any side (460.1km). Palace clocked the least distance of any side to play four games yet ended up with five injuries.

Which teams ran most and least?
Sheffield United 460.1km
Crystal Palace 415km
Source: Opta

And while Dele Alli picked up a tightness in a muscle, he played in all four Spurs games over the period and featured in the top five players in the league for distance covered. None of the other top 19 in the players ranked for distance covered picked up an injury.

Which players ran furthest?
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) 48.01km
James Ward-Prowse (Southampton) 46.71km
Fred (Man Utd) 46.49km
Ashley Westwood (Burnley) 45.52km
Dele Alli (Tottenham) 45.3km
Source: Opta


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