This season a never ending conversation over whether not playing Champions League football has aided Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge, and whether they would actually be top of the League had they been in European competition has been a much spoke about topic by football fans. Of course it is all hypothetical and no certain conclusion can be made, nor ever will be. However we can look at how other English clubs have fared in their pursuit of both European and Domestic glory and see whether it has hampered their Premier League form.
Much has been made of Brendan Rodgers tactical flexibility and how he manages to be able to set up Liverpool in various different ways on the pitch. This of course takes many hours of hard work and practice on the training ground, something Liverpool would have far more of compared to other clubs. Whilst Manchester City are travelling to Munich on the Tuesday Morning for their game on Wednesday against the European champions, returning to England Thursday morning, for their game on Saturday afternoon, Liverpool would’ve been able to have 3 extra days on the training pitch that week working on those tactical flexibilities we’ve seen on the pitch, not to mention the extra rest period Liverpool players would’ve had that week, meaning less chance of fatigue and injuries to squad members, short term as well as long term. So that is one advantage Liverpool have really capitalised on this season, and we’ve seen it on the pitch with some glowing attacking performances, irresistible intensity and tempo, which would make them worthy Premier League winners. That should not be taken away from Liverpool if they are to win the League; whoever wins the title will always be worthy winners and deserving of that Championship medal.
However it is my opinion that had Liverpool been in a European competition this season, whether it be Europa League or Champions League, they would not be in the League position they are in now. Where they would be is hard to say. With less preparation time for League games, added risk of fatigue and injury, points would almost certainly be lost in the Premier League before and after European games.
You may now be asking the question, ‘Does European football really have that much effect on the top teams’. Well let’s have a look at the League records of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United this season of the week they played Champions League football.
Game before Champions League game – W7 D1 L0 (2 FA Cup games) 2 POINTS DROPPED
Game after Champions League game – W5 D1 L2 8 POINTS DROPPED
In Total – W12 D2 L2 10 POINTS DROPPED
Game before Champions League game – W4 D2 L6 22 POINTS DROPPED
Games after Champions League game – W10 D1 L0 2 POINTS DROPPED
In Total – W14 D3 L6 24 POINTS DROPPED
Game before Champions League game – W4 D2 L2 (2 FA Cup games) 7 POINTS DROPPED AND KO OF FA CUP
Game after Champions League game – W6 D0 L2 6 POINTS DROPPED
In Total – W10 D2 L4 13 POINTS DROPPED
Games before Champions League game – W5 D2 L3 13 POINTS DROPPED
Games after Champions League game – W7 D1 L2 8 POINTS DROPPED
In Total – W12 D3 L5 21 POINTS DROPPED
Arsenal has the best Premier League record of games before and after Champions League games this season having only dropped 10 points. However after their end of season capitulation, mass injury crisis as well as question marks over Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to rest key players, I wonder if this is just a mere coincidence or if there is something to be made of this trend.
Interestingly Chelsea has dropped the most points in the Champions League week, a staggering 24 points. Considering Chelsea have only dropped 30 points all season, the 22 points dropped the game before Champions League fixtures accounts for a whopping 73% of all points dropped during the course of the season. Chelsea incidentally have the best record for After Champions League games, racking up 10 wins, dropping just the 2 points at home to West Brom earlier on in the season. Could this be ill preparation by Chelsea, losing Premier League games to lower opposition, taking their eye off the Premier League to focus on the upcoming Champions League game?
Manchester City have only lost 6 games all season and 50% of those loses in the League have come before and after Champions League games, as well as that humiliating defeat in the FA Cup Quarter Finals at the hands of Wigan. Incidentally all 3 of those Premier League defeats suffered on Champions League week were actually away from home, something Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal all have in common, 10 defeats away from home on the week of Champions League fixtures.
Manchester United has been poor all season so the findings from their games may not be much to read into. However 21 points dropped in the Champions League week accounts to almost 50% of their points dropped across the season, which could of course point more fingers at David Moyes who clearly was very inexperienced when it came to preparing for both Champions League and Premier League fixtures in the same week.
Clearly despite Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City having bigger squads than Liverpool do, all 3 clubs struggled with the task of maintaining efforts for both the Champions League, Premier League and Domestic competitions, dropping a large portion of their points during these weeks. Of course had Liverpool been in European competition this season they would’ve strengthened their team accordingly, there is no doubt about that, however squad depth as we’ve seen with both City and Chelsea isn’t necessarily going to solve those problems. Players can be bought however time cannot; the preparation building up to games has almost undoubtedly aided Liverpool’s push for the title. The added time on the training ground working on new ideas and tactics has enabled Liverpool to have the edge on their competition. Put that together with a good a team, and a great coach and you have a team who is able to win the title, let’s not take anything away from Liverpool here.
With Champions League qualification secure, it will be interesting to see how Liverpool fare with the lack of preparation, the extra games, as well as the much needed squad rotation and almost guaranteed injuries and fatigue next season. Brendan Rodgers will almost certainly have to improve on his first season stint in Europa, as Liverpool last year whilst being in the Europa League dropped 18 points before and after European games, drawing 6 games. Dropping just half of that this season would’ve seen Liverpool being involved in a top 4 scrap with Arsenal, Everton and Spurs. Interestingly, after Liverpool exited the Europa League last season it was at that point they managed to go 9 games unbeaten at the end of the season, which incidentally was their longest unbeaten streak of their campaign.
Moving away from Liverpool, using these findings as a guideline for next season if United were to employ the right manager, we could well see them make a push for the title next season as they will most likely not be involved in the Europa League unless Spurs drop points. Manchester United will have greater time to rest players, the new manager will also have a greater proportion of time on the training field to really enforce his tactics and philosophy on to the team, something David Moyes never really had the opportunity to do. It may just be worth a cheeky bet as a dark horse.
Thanks for reading.