There was a sharp rise in the number of injured players in the Injury League during the ‘Festive Season’.
The Daily Cannon Injury League tallied 100 injured players last week with 99 the week before that – the highest weekly totals of the season thus far.
This is much higher than the average of 77.9 injured players per week up until 22 December. This is significant because that is when most of Europe begins to go on a Winter Break.
The graph below shows the number of players comprising the Injury League since the start of the 2017/2018 season.
Arsenal’s contribution seems to verify a systemic pattern over the course of the season. Fans might argue Arsenal help to drive these totals, but three teams (Watford, Everton, Liverpool) have significantly more injuries.
When compared to the typical match schedule of a Premier League side, several factors become readily apparent:
International breaks do not cause more injuries
The graph above shows rhythmic drops in the injury totals soon after each break. This seems to indicate that the breaks may be actually beneficial to regulating teams’ overall health.
Only some of the players are involved during the two-week period, giving others a much needed rest. Those that go on international duty only play one game per week, versus two they might face with their club.
The season includes these international breaks with roughly four weeks of League, domestic and UEFA cup play in-between.
Each four-week period typically includes at least four Premier League matches, one domestic cup (League Cup, in this case), and two UEFA cup group matches for those lucky to be involved.
The periods between international breaks present a lot more physical stress than during the interlull.
This stress is only made more severe by the lack of such a break in December.
While most of Europe rests, the English accelerate
This pattern changes around mid-December, when most of Europe prepares for their winter break.
Instead of giving players a rest, the English Football Association adds more games during it’s so-called ‘Festive Season’.
This begins with the third round of the League Cup and includes four more Premier League matches in two weeks. It concludes with the third round of the FA Cup and the first leg of the League Cup Semi-Finals.
Granted, the Premier League contains 20 teams, requiring each team to play 19 rounds in the first half of the season. Compressing the schedule in the middle allows the season to start later, allowing for a summer break.
That’s fine if you’re solving a scheduling problem.
The problem is that it also accounts for more games played in the cold. This is when muscular injuries are more common due to improper warm-up procedures.
From a physio’s perspective, games in colder weather provide a greater opportunity for more of the ‘stress and overuse’-type injuries.
If not rotated properly technical players often get injured – their only source of rest during this period. The graph above also implies some rotation beginning in late November as astute managers prepare for the melee to come.
One issue is that those who usually replace the first team are of lesser quality and quite rusty.
As a result, the games played may make the Premier League somewhat more brutal than competitive.
The problem is that they usually include lacklustre, uninspired, uncoordinated play and are generally unpleasant to watch.
The need for an English winter break
The English FA is more interested in the business of the Premier League than players’ fitness.
This really is unfortunate.
We see it in the way they protect the authority of the referees’ foul/card decisions.
We also see it in the harmful way they accelerate play during the worst possible weather.
It’s time for the FA to do something to protect players and make room for a winter break.
They could do so by expanding the season by few weeks in August and May. They could also lower the size of the league to reduce the number of required games.
This would not only make play more consistent and exciting with more talented, healthy professionals. Reducing the field would make it a lot more competitive as well.