We keep hearing (from Jose Mourinho, mainly) that Liverpool are challenging for the title due to them not having to play in Europe (as if Champions League income doesn’t help with that particular ‘chore’, but let’s ignore that for now).
Whilst it is true that the other teams in the top four have played more games than the Reds this season, I thought it’d be interesting to break it down per player to see what the extra workload is. After all, these teams have bigger squads as they have more money to spend, so what difference do the extra games make per man?
I was initially going to look at the average number of minutes played by each squad member for each club, but then I soon realised the range is enormous, from your ever presents down to your token-runout-youth-team-Capital-One-Cup-sub type players.
I have therefore focused on the top ten players for minutes played in each squad, as these are the guys who are having to play week-in, week-out, and looked at how long those players have been on the pitch on average.
I have excluded goalkeepers, as they tend to play virtually every game, so a top ten should then be something approaching the manager’s first choice team. We can then see how many minutes more, on average, the top ten most worked players at Chelsea, City and Arsenal have played compared to those at Liverpool.
To try to assess this difference, I have then divided the minutes played figure by ninety to show how many extra games it equates to. As we will be thirty-five weeks into the season this weekend, I have also calculated how many extra minutes per week each ‘top ten’ player has averaged, and how many weeks it takes them to play an extra games worth (ninety minutes) of match time.
Hope that makes sense… Here it is:
So what can we see?
Arsenal and Chelsea’s regular guys have played an extra twenty minutes of football a week, give or take. For Man City’s mega squad, it’s even less; barely one seventh of a match.
Is twenty minutes a week significant? It doesn’t sound like a huge amount to me, but I can’t offer any insight into whether it actually is or not. The point of this article is not to try to prove if Liverpool have had an advantage or not, but more to put the information out there; comments on this are very welcome below.
It isn’t just the playing time itself of course. You have to factor in the extra travel, and the less time available to prepare for matches.
As one of Brendan Rodgers’ key strengths is as a coach (“educating players”), I’ve no doubt that more time at Melwood is one of the reasons why Liverpool have prospered this season (and also struggled last season as the gaffer tried to implement his new ideas in the midst of a draining Europa League campaign).
But overall, I think the fact that the pitch time only equates to an extra game once a month (roughly) suggests that Liverpool haven’t had an enormous advantage.
After all, if no European football was the be all and end all, surely the likes of Stoke and Aston Villa (who have spent similar net amounts on transfers as Liverpool have in the last five years) should be challenging for the league too. Any thoughts on that, Jose?