In the past six months, Manchester United's Harry Maguire has played 38 games in all competitions, recording a total of 3,421 minutes. In the six months before the coronavirus came to a standstill – from mid-September 2019 to mid-March 2020 – he played 40 games for a total of 3,552 minutes. Teammate Bruno Fernandes has played 39 games and 3,117 minutes in the past six months, compared to 31 for 2,569 pre-stops.
Andy Robertson and Gini Wijnaldum from Liverpool, Lionel Messi from Barcelona, Frenkie de Jong and Clement Lenglet, Raheem Sterling from Manchester City, Ruben Dias and Rodri, Matt Doherty and Toby Alderweireld from Tottenham Hotspur, Mason Mount from Chelsea, Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez from Inter … a Many key players have logged at least 2,500 minutes in the past six months, just as they did before the stop.
Similar periods of time, similar minutes. The difference? The last six months have included an "off-season", although there is almost no planned break in football for the next five months.
The average European football season was already endless. The camp runs through July and the season starts in early to mid-August. Your club season will last between 34 and 38 games over the next nine months. (If you're in the English championship, you play 46.) If your team is good enough, you can look forward to six to 15 Europa League or Champions League games. And if you were lucky enough to win the Champions League last season, you can play some FIFA Club World Cup matches in Qatar this winter.
Then there's your country's national cup tournament (two if you're in England). And while there are breaks everywhere, those "breaks" will likely require you to fly home and sign up for national team service, which could mean qualifying for the World Cup, friendly matches or qualifying matches for continental competitions like the UEFA Nations League (Europe ), Gold Cup (North and Central America) and Copa America (South America).
Liverpool, for example, played 57 games in the 2019-20 season. It could have been more – they were knocked out in the Champions League round of 16 and before the semi-finals in both the FA Cup and the EFL Cup. If FIFA had their way, they would have played a few more at an expanded Club World Cup, and it probably goes without saying that some of their players are good enough to start for their country as well. When the off-season finally comes, (a) it will only last a few months and (b) you may also have a large international tournament to compete in.
Maguire has played every minute of the Premier League for Man United this season and some of his teammates are also approaching a danger zone that is around the holiday season. Chloe Knott – Danehouse / Getty Images
After the coronavirus, which caused massive sales drops and resulted in the 2019-20 season not officially ending until mid-August, we are in the middle of a 2020-21 campaign that started about a month later than normal and sacrificed almost no devices. The league and the European boards are still full, the international breaks are still frequent. The injuries have increased, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. It seems like a virtual guarantee that even more action will be taken over the next few months.
However, that does not mean that every team is equally at risk of an injury crisis.
Who distributes their logs well?
By December 23 of last season, teams in the European "Big 5" leagues (English Premier League, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1, Spanish Primera Division) had played an average of 23.5 athletes in their league matches. About 5.0 of them (21%) had logged on average at least 80% of the minutes available, with 4.6 (20%) picking up between 60 and 80% of the game time. As you might predict, teams in the Champions League or Europa League had a different distribution: they had the same average number of players per team, but only 4.4 of them had logged over 80% of the minutes available when they tried to save some legs for european game.
This time the numbers have shifted in the previously compressed 2020-21 campaign.
– The teams played an average of 24.7 players in the league game, from 33 (Saint-Étienne and Spezia) to 19 (Aston Villa). The number of teams in European competitions averaged 24.8: Granada (31) and PSG (30) used most of the players from this team sample due to pragmatism and necessity, while Lille only used 21. A handful of tournament candidates (Atletico Madrid), Borussia Mönchengladbach, Inter Milan, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur) managed to play only 22 players.
You might have expected a bigger increase than if you were basically playing an additional player, but a 5% increase is still a 5% increase.
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– On average, 4.3 players per team have logged over 80% of league minutes for their club so far, a decrease of around 14%. For the Champions and Europa League teams, that number is 4.0, a decrease of around 9% from last season.
– Neither Atalanta nor PSG have had a single player log for more than 80% of league minutes. PSG have played 17 Ligue 1 games but only two players have appeared in more than 13 games – 20-year-old full-back Mitchel Bakker and 31-year-old midfielder Ander Herrera – and only Bakker and goalkeeper Keylor Navas logged more than 70% the available minutes. The club have been hit quite hard by injuries – Neymar has dealt with ankle problems and prevailed with a positive coronavirus test in September, Kylian Mbappe battled a thigh problem in November and prevailed against full-back Juan Bernat with a positive test September with an ACL crack etc. on the way – but it is clear that manager Thomas Tuchel has tried to use a deep squad to get PSG through its particularly overloaded schedule.
It did not come without sacrifice. After only 13 points last season, PSG have already lost 16 points in the league game and are currently third in the table. Despite a 4-0 win over Strasbourg on Wednesday, Tuchel was sacked on Christmas Eve.
Atalanta reached the knockout round of the Champions League for the second year in a row, which is a tremendous achievement. However, Gian Piero Gasperini's squad is first with only 22 points in 13 league games, four points behind fourth place and twelve points behind fourth place.
You had a similar problem last season. The Bergamo boys have reached the maximum to make the Champions League knockout games, being in the top four four times by December 24 and injuring them eleven times behind the league leadership in the fall. This time around, both Milanese clubs started strong, Napoli and Roma have their respective acts together, Juventus only lost once and even Sassuolo only lost twice. It could be more difficult to get back into the top four.
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Are Spurs and Man United in trouble?
A number of Premier League giants stand out among the top teams: Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United have five players logged at least 90% of league minutes.
Spurs manager Jose Mourinho has had trust issues in the past: basically he can only play those he trusts and he doesn't trust that many people. Spurs were completely destroyed by an injury last winter, but their luck has been solid so far this season. Attackers Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min, midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, defender Eric Dier and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris recorded at least 1,100 minutes in Spurs' first 14 games. Midfielder Moussa Sissoko is also in the "1,000 Club" (1,023 minutes or 81% of all available).
That worked out fine. Son and Kane have teamed up for an absurd 20 goals and 14 assists and with consistency behind them, Spurs have only allowed 14 goals, the third longest in the Premier League. However, that is a long time, and only Dier and Højbjerg are under 27 years old. Granted, Mourinho didn't have to use his first-choice team for every minute of the Europa League group stage (or the three qualifiers to get there), but Spurs didn't make it to the knockout stage until the sixth and final final. Sohn, Kane and Højbjerg also logged there for at least 300 minutes each.
Man United is not far behind. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to use his first choice line-up for most of the unsuccessful Champions League stint. Meanwhile, attackers Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka and center-backs Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof each played at least 89% of United's available league minutes (Maguire played each one), as did keeper David de Gea (81%) is not far behind.
Despite a randomly confused result here and there, the approach has proven its worth: United averages two points per game in the Premier League, only behind Liverpool (2.2).
Overall, some Big 5 competitors set up a huge bench to sacrifice some points in the short term while others tried to keep their lineup as stable as possible and risk attrition issues later in the year. We'll have to wait a few more months to see which approach has paid off and for whom.
So who is using their subs?
When play resumed in the Premier League in June, the league (like most of the others) decided to increase the number of eligible substitutes from three to five. Italian clubs immediately rushed to experiment with tactics – Napoli had an average of 5 subs per game after the restart and four other Serie A clubs (Sassuolo, Lazio, Bologna, Parma) as well as La Liga’s Levante and Athletic Bilbao and the Paderborn of the Bundesliga, an average of at least 4.8. The substitution craze wasn't particularly big in the Premier League – Burnley averaged just 1.8 subs per game after the restart, while six others averaged under 3.4. No other team in the other four Big 5 leagues averaged less than 3.5, and Brighton, Liverpool and Norwich City were the only Premier League clubs to average more than 4.5.
While other leagues decided to keep the five-sub option for 2020-21, the Premier League decided against it. Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder was extremely vocal against five subs, saying it would add another advantage to rich clubs with deeper banks. His objection makes sense in theory – Manchester City's 16th best player is probably far more expensive and high profile than Sheffield United's – but it felt a little short-sighted as increasing substitutions offered an area of potential tactical advantage.
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A progressive thinking team could use heavy submarines to quickly change tactics and formations and find an advantage. (You could also use the fresh legs to maintain a high rate of work and thwart a better, stronger squad.) For example, Serie A Sassuolo averages the second highest subs this season in the Big 5 (4.93) and is surprisingly fourth in the table. La Liga’s newly promoted Cadiz averages 4.8 submarines (seventh in the Big 5) and is a surprising tenth. Other upstarts like Stuttgart (4.77 Subs) and Real Sociedad (4.69) have used the change liberally.
(That said, more submarines weren't a panacea. Genoa has used every submarine in every game this season and is the last in Serie A. They still have useful substitutions to make.)
Wilder & # 39; s United now has two points from 12 games. As a bitter Jürgen Klopp said a few weeks ago before United scored a second draw of the season: "You now have three subs and one point."
Substitutes used per game, 2020-21:
1. Ligue 1 teams (4.31)
2. Series A (4.33)
3. La Liga (4.23)
4th Bundesliga (4.04)
5th Premier League (2.65)
Premier League (and Milan) teams in the danger zone
Milan are having a great season, leading Serie A at Christmas and playing brilliantly. But will their lack of rotation catch up with them? Nicola Campo / LightRocket via Getty Images
For obvious reasons, trying to project injury problems is a breeze. Even with a certain number of known risk factors, the timing and severity of future injuries is fundamentally unknown. However, we can get a good read on who may be at higher risk for wear and tear when that long slog of a season is just inches away.
Let's separate the Big 5 teams in Europe by how many of their players logged at least 2,500 minutes in all competitions over the past six months, as we know those minutes won't keep increasing for the coming months.
7 players: Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspur
6 players: Manchester United
5 players: AC Milan, Manchester City
4 players: Atalanta, Juventus
3 players: Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Leicester City, Seville
2 players: Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Lazio, Liverpool, Napoli, Real Madrid
1 player: Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich, Fiorentina, Leeds United, RB Leipzig, Real Sociedad, Roma, Villarreal, West Ham United, Wölfe
Of the 18 teams with at least two such players, eight are Premier League teams. In England there are 11 of the 28 players with at least one player.
That shouldn't come as a surprise. Premier League teams not only play as many games as any other major league (38), they also play for two national cups and allow fewer substitutes. On top of that, this is a very good league with a lot of teams in the Champions and European leagues, and it would make sense that those minutes would have added up.
The lack of German teams should also come as no surprise: Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich only have one each (goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky and Manuel Neuer). There are fewer teams (18) and fewer league games (34) in the Bundesliga, and even with a compressed schedule, she has planned a small winter break for her teams. Liverpool, leaders in the Premier League, will play six games between December 27th and January 16th. Bayern, leading in the Bundesliga, played four games between December 20 and January 16.
Again, the above list makes no predictions. It doesn't say AC Milan, Inter Milan, Manchester City, Manchester United and Spurs will all face any number of muscle injuries in the coming months. But they all played by playing more stable lineups than others, and while they were mostly rewarded with strong points on their respective tables, it was basically like passing a pit stop in a NASCAR race. You could shave for a few seconds and be rewarded with a lofty goal and you could run out of gas on the way.