In some sections of the fan-base discussions about our impending voyage into The Europa League carry the lingering whiff of human shit.
The narrative amongst the sceptics is that the injection of regular midweek continental dalliance to the toffee libido will violently distract us like some kind of nuclear bag of magic. Yes there are undoubtedly challenges to be faced with balancing these forays into European backwaters whilst simultaneously maintaining league form and avoiding the by-product of injuries , for me this unsavoury reputation is ill deserved and this lengthy ramble will try to objectively explain why.
Aside from the potential excursions to sunny San Sebastian and seductively salubrious Slovakia there are legitimate reasons why on the pitch the tournament should be viewed as a positive. Being an incredibly contrary individual as I am, this piece will look at all the various scaremongering theories doing the rounds about how our season will crumble and assess the validity of these projections. There’s a fair bit of data to digest along with a lot of sweeping generalisations and also some unfounded character assassinations, mostly regarding Spurs. There is also no mention of the term second season syndrome.
Theory #1 ‘Playing Thursday and Sunday means more injuries’
Using data from the excellent Physio Room website, we took a look at the injury records of top flight clubs from England over the last 4 years who have competed in the Europa League (EL) to see if there was an upturn in injuries in the season they competed in the EL compared to the previous season that they qualified. So for example, Fulham received 16 more injuries in the season they competed in EL compared to the previous season. The only snag with this data is that Spurs qualified for the EL in consecutive seasons, but we will zoom in on Spurs later on in this post.
The outcome above shows that on average sides from the English top flight competing in the EL have accrued x4 additional injuries per season (for info, the average injuries accrued per team in the prem is 24), so this would equate to an increase of 16% due to the EL which is why Martinez decreed at the back-end of last season that he wanted to bolster the squad numbers wise by 6-7 players this summer. So based on this there is a clear challenge faced, but it’s not an insurmountable one if managed properly.
Theory #2 ‘The Europa league affects league form’
Moyes win rate as Everton boss over his 11 year tenure was 42%, however his record in the 24 games following European games, the bulk of which were played on a Thursday, drops considerably to 27%. Does this mean our league form is at risk then? Not necessarily.
In a study of the last 13 assaults on the EL by clubs in the English top flight, a glance at the below graph will show that there is no downward trend in points differential for clubs competing in the EL based on their previous season’s points tally. If you take out the 2 glaring anomalies (pardew’s calamitous campaign & clown keck’s final meltdown season with the RS) overall side’s pretty much accrue the same points (+0.36) as they did the previous season.
Cock Piss Pardew has been particularly critical of the EL for the impact it had on the Toon Army domestically in the 12/13 season, however the following season in 13/14 they accrued 8 points less without the supposed distraction of European football, indicating that their Thursday forays into Europe were nothing more than a convenient excuse for his blundering mis-management of the situation.
* Birmingham and Wigan have been excluded from this analysis as they played their Europa League season in the Championship.
The EL equation tends to be that if you play an equivalent or better team away from home who hasn’t played midweek then you are screwed. Given this I’ve listed below the games in bold that could potentially give us problems next season following EL games. You can see that there is an even split of 7 home and 7 away and that the draw hasn’t been favourable for us as we potentially have to play last season’s 3 biggest rivals all away from home. Dogleash would call that a conspiracy.
Potential EFC games impacted by Europa League 14/15
Last year the highest points haul by a team in the group stage to not get through was 7 points, so 8+points from our first 12 available should be enough to qualify. To this end its conceivable (and yes I know this is everton) that qualification could be assured quite easily with 2 games to spare. This would give us more flexibility with personnel prior to the potentially crucial visit to Spurs.
Crystal Palace (h)
Man Utd (a)
Man Utd (h)
West Ham (a)
The Spurs Case Study
My issue with a lot of the data we’ve chewed through so far is that it’s not exactly feasible to compare ourselves with sides like Swansea, Manchester City and Fulham as it’s not really a fair comparison in terms of league aspirations and squad quality.
Whilst EL regulars Spurs have a bigger budget than ourselves, there is little difference in terms of quality of the respective sides first 20 players and we have pretty much gone toe to toe with them over the last 10 seasons in the league give or take a few wobbly seasons. Analysing their points and injuries record then gives us a much better indicator.
Their ex boss – Bagpuss faced illiterate Arry Redknapp – is one such manager who has been derogatory about the competition and the negative impact it had on Spurs fortunes, but does the meat faced mutant have a point? Suffocatingly informative analyst Raymond Verheijen certainly thinks so. The physio focused commentator noted at the back end of last season that Spurs have played the EL on Thursday before 9 of their last 10 losses in the English top flight – this was on the back of a 27,000 game study he led on the subject.
One unfounded generalisation you could make here is that Spurs players have always been something of a flimsy bunch in terms of being mentally tough and that this poor record on the road following EL is possibly evidence that they simply don’t possess the mentality to handle the dynamic of back to back games on the road and the built in excuses this offers.
*the green dot indicates season Spurs competed in Europa League, Yellow dot when they competed in ECL and red dot when they did not compete in Europe.
Looking at the above graph we can see that Spurs accrued 70 points when taking 4th in 2010 to qualify for the ECL, although they racked their higher ever points tally in 12/13 (72) in a season when they competed in the Europa league. Spurs also finished 4th in 2011/12 whilst competing in the Europa league, and were only denied qualification to Europe’s top table by Chelsea’s somewhat improbable success in winning the tournament. The curve above shows that Spurs competing in the EL down the years has not negatively impacted their fortunes in the Premier League.
More so, spurs points per game following europa league games over the last 3 seasons is 1.9, slightly up on their season average of 1.84 over the last 3 seasons.
In terms of injuries in their last 5 Europa campaigns, Spurs have accrued more than the prem average in 4 of these seasons, usually picking up 6 more injuries per season. Only on 2 occasions during the date range did we accrue more injuries than Spurs; in 2008 when both competed in the Europa and in 2009 when we had a freak season of serious injuries en route to the cup final.
The question you could pose is whether we have a squad equivalent to Spurs to sustain the required edge needed in both domestic and continental competition. Spurs spending compared to ours is clearly not comparable, however in terms of experience and numbers there is little between the sides. Nine of our current squad have competed in the Champions League with a further 7 able to draw on experience from the Europa League. We also selected the same number of players (28) in the Premier League as Spurs last season.
Theory #3 ‘Its impossible to compete on both fronts’
Most fans would say that getting to the EL semi finals and replicating last season’s league form would constitute a good season for the toffees. We took a look at the league form of the last 16 semi finalists of the Europa League in the season they got to the last four based on their previous league campaign to try to understand if the increase in games associated with getting to the last four has a negative impact on the league campaign.
On average the semi finalists faired less than a point (-0.43) worse off the following season. Of these 16 sides who made the semi finals in the last four season’s 10 also qualified via their domestic league for the Champions League that same season so I’d say it’s definitely possible to compete on both fronts with the correct management.
Theory #4 ‘The Europa league is dog shit’
Bizarrely this is one that is trotted out by many football fans despite it representing a potential route to glory, foreign trips, ace food/ale and as from this season the prize of automatic qualification for the Champions League.
More so, compared to the Premier League its a more level playing field without the distortion of the likes of City and Chelsea to get past. Granted, Channel Five’s self harm inducing duo Clark Carlisle and Jim Beglin are nothing to write home about but there is little else in the Europa League’s negative column.
From this unnecessarily long analysis I’d say we could draw the following qualitative and quantitative conclusions on the Europa League;
- There is no comparable analysis to support that playing Thursday – Sunday impacts league form over the course of the season.
- The Europa League is a very convenient excuse for shit management
- In general, there is a small spike in the number of injuries accrued during the domestic season for Europa League participants.
- Sides who do well in the Europa League (and play more games) aren’t impacted points wise in their domestic championship. infact, they are more than likely to qualify for the Champions League
Thanks for reading