It’s a point of view that is often trotted out when it comes to discussing European competition – that being involved in either the Champions League or Europa league has a drastic effect on domestic performance.
It’s an understandable assessment, too. More games should mean more fixture congestion and an increased likelihood of injuries. Even if Premier League sides can manage the injuries and fatigue, the travel alone is enough to affect a team’s freshness.
The Champions League is kinder in this respect. Teams play on either a Tuesday or Wednesday and even then – by virtue of being bigger clubs – they’ll often play their next game later than others (thanks Sky Sports).
By contrast, the Europa League takes no prisoners. Teams will regularly be given just 2 days to recuperate.
Do clubs win more or less during Europa League involvement?
Let’s start things off with the fundamentals. The graph below contains data from the last five seasons of Premier League teams’ involvement in the Europa League.
As you can see from the graph, the majority of the Europa League participants over the last five years have seen little to no drop off in their performance following a Thursday night match.
Tottenham 14/15, Everton 17/18 and Chelsea 18/19 are the most obvious examples to the contrary. Spurs suffered a 25% drop off in win %, Everton won 18% less and Chelsea nearly 15%. There doesn’t appear to be a common denominator to suggest why this was though.
Everton were unfortunate enough to run into strong sides following their Europa League fixtures whereas Spurs simply suffered some freak results to the likes of Newcastle and West Brom. It’s more likely therefore that these three were anomalies.
More striking is the fact that the other teams saw little to no drop-off in their win percentage following a Europa League fixture.
In fact, for the past two seasons, Arsenal’s win % has actually improved in Premier League matches played immediately after a Thursday night game. It helps that the Gunners are able to rotate their squad significantly – and possess two world-class forwards to interchange – but it further disproves the idea that teams competing in the Europa League aren’t as competitive in the Premier League.
Do Premier League teams score fewer goals following a Europa League game?
So we’ve worked out that Premier League sides tend not to be impacted too heavily by their EL involvement when it comes to their win percentage. But one of the main ways we construct our FPL teams is by working out who’s going to score or create goals. It only makes sense, therefore, that we take a look at whether sides begin to play more like Paul Jewell’s Derby County or Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City after playing on a Thursday.
Once again, there’s nothing particularly notable about the discrepancies in this graph. This in itself tells a story.
Spurs in 14/15 and Chelsea in 18/19 see some drop off, but it’s less significant than their respective win percentage decreases. Southampton in 16/17 were also victims of the Europa League ‘curse’ when it came to goals scored. In general, however, these teams didn’t struggle to score goals following a Thursday night match.
It’s important to re-emphasise that the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea have a wealth of talent within their squads and are able to rotate well enough to compete on both fronts.
This may explain Southampton’s torrid time in front of goal following their Europa League games in 16/17. They simply didn’t have enough depth.
Do Premier League teams concede more goals following a Thursday night Europa League game?
Win percentage? Covered. Goals scored? Covered. It only seems right to move onto whether goals conceded are impacted by Europa League participation. Going by what the data’s told us so far, it might be the last bastion of hope for those who believe Premier League teams do worse when they compete in the Europa League.
Everton don’t exactly cover themselves in glory here, do they? The Toffees’ backline apparently didn’t enjoy travelling across Europe in their 17/18 season. Perhaps Ashley Williams gets travel sick? Or maybe Cuco Martina was just that bad a footballer.
Either way, Everton’s average goals conceded over the 17/18 season almost doubled in the games following their Europa League adventures. A shift from 1.52 to 2.83 is severe.
Manchester United are arguably the most interesting case study in terms of goals conceded. The Red Devils had the second-best defensive record in the Premier League during the 2016/17 season, conceding just 29 times. Despite their obvious defensive prowess, United’s average goals conceded in post-Europa League games was almost double that of the rest of their season.
But once again, there’s nothing to suggest that United were anything more than an outlier. Whilst it’s interesting to look at these cases individually, looking at them as a collective sends a strong message as to how much the Europa League actually damages domestic campaigns.
The Europa League’s impact on Premier League rotation
There’s a reason that the words “bald” and “fraud” accompany every Man City team sheet release. Every week is a guessing game as to who Pep will pick from his squad of superstars, and when you’re on the wrong end of the Pep roulette, it stings.
Thankfully, City are too good for the Europa League, so we shouldn’t be faced with that level of rotation, but there’s no doubt that it plays into the thinking of FPL managers. It’s important to note, however, that there are differences between the Champions League and Europa League when it comes to rotation.
Simply presenting data when it comes to previous seasons of rotation following Europa League games would tell somewhat of a story, but that data requires context and an acknowledgement of circumstances that could impact whether a team decides to rest their big guns following a Europa League game.
Put simply, the Europa League doesn’t have the same prestige as the Champions League. It’s common knowledge that teams tend not to take the competition seriously until the latter stages. Eden Hazard, for example, played just 117 of his 451 Europa League minutes last season before the Quarter-Final stage.
This is further backed up by how Chelsea decided to deal with other key figures in their squad. Of the Blues’ top three FPL points scorers (Hazard, Marcos Alonso and David Luiz), none played even half of the possible Europa League minutes, with Alonso registering just 335 total minutes in the competition.
When it came to domestic affairs, the difference was stark. In the Premier League each of the trio played over 2500 minutes. In other words, Chelsea’s biggest hitting FPL players – despite being involved in the Europa League – played 80% of the time in the Premier League, with none of them suffering a severe drop off in playing time immediately following a Europa League game.
Hazard’s minutes per game (MPG) in the Europa League were just 30, compared to his 79MPG in the Premier League. Alonso averaged 22MPG in Europa compared to 89MPG in the Premier League. David Luiz managed 38MPG across the continent in comparison to 89MPG in the Premier League. The Blues’ focus was clear from the outset, and their squad depth allowed them to rest key men in Europe and keep them fresh for the Premier League.
The same is true of Arsenal last season. Both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette averaged over 65 mins a game in matches immediately following a Europa League clash. In the case of Aubameyang, the Gabonese forward actually played an average of 80 mins per game after a Europa League game compared to his average of 75 across the season.
What does the Europa League mean for FPL 19/20?
With the Premier League having two – possibly three – representatives in the Europa League next season, it would be unwise to ignore the competition entirely. But the truth is that unless you’ve built your FPL team around the likes of Emile Smith-Rowe, picking the Aubameyang’s of the world is still a safe bet. Sides such as Arsenal have more than enough depth within their squad to field competent sides in both competitions.
Are Wolves players good FPL picks?
There is somewhat of a wildcard when it comes to the Europa League this season though, and it comes in the form of Wolves. The Black Country outfit made an impressive return to the Premier League last season, finishing 7th and ensuring they’d be playing in the Europa League qualification rounds – a stage most believe they’ll fly through.
So how do you solve a problem like Wolves? Presenting data is always useful, but in this scenario, it would serve little purpose. Each team and each manager has their own views on rotation and circumstances to deal with. Wolves themselves also have no previous European involvement to go on, but they did make a significant run in last year’s FA Cup, reaching the Semi-Finals.
During the aforementioned run, Nuno – due to the lack of squad depth – was only able to make wholesale changes for their games against Shrewsbury. The Portuguese chose to field a couple of youngsters in both the away game and the replay at Molineux, but those youngsters were few and far between and Nuno’s side still contained key players such as Conor Coady and Willy Boly.
It highlights what is the biggest stumbling block when it comes to Wolves assets in FPL 19/20: a lack of depth within the squad. The club doesn’t currently have enough players in their squad to challenge on two fronts.
This was a major factor in Southampton’s struggles in front of goal in 16/17 and if Wolves don’t make some moves before the transfer window closes, they could meet a similar fate in terms of attacking output this season.
There’s also the issue of fatigue that could come into play. Wolves started their season in mid-July, compared to their Premier League rivals who won’t play until the start of August. The Black Country side are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to rest – and are more likely to pick up injuries with a thin squad.
It means that despite the data telling us that the majority of sides tend not to struggle following Europa League games, Wolves – at the time of writing – don’t have the luxury of squad depth that the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United do. The likes of Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota will – in all likelihood – be selected for both European and Premier League duties, and whilst the arrival of Patrick Cutrone should lighten the workload at some point, we don’t know how long it’ll take him to acclimatise to the Premier League.
Put simply, Wolves won’t rotate because they can’t, and whilst that seems like an inherently positive thing within the FPL world, it comes with its own problems.
There’s no guarantee that Wolves do make it to the group stages of the Europa League, but if they do, their lack of ability to rotate should be something that’s considered when it comes to their FPL assets.
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How much influence should the Europa League have in your FPL thinking?
Well, the short answer is not very much, but I’ll humour you with the long-winded version. The narrative surrounding the impact the Europa League has on Premier League sides has long gone unchallenged. It was simple – Premier League sides playing against teams full of Football Manager regens suffered as a result of their involvement in Europe.
The data tells quite a different story though. With the majority of teams wisening up to rotating in the early stages of the Europa League to focus on domestic success, their Premier League performances simply aren’t taking the hit that people once believed they were.
FPL players frequently like to reference the Europa League when selecting players because it fits a narrative they’ve already bought into. Perhaps you want to play your £5.5m forward this week because he’s facing an Arsenal side that were playing in a Ukrainian fishing village just four days prior. Maybe you didn’t select Eden Hazard last season because you were unsure of Chelsea’s fatigue levels after a Thursday night match.
The reality is that whilst you should be acutely aware of some potential rotation – or lack of ability to do so in some cases – there isn’t a substantial on-pitch impact on performance for Premier League sides who have Europa League duties to attend to. Personally, I’m a little relieved.