BY now it’s a correlation you can’t fail to have been exposed to. Teams regularly playing Thursday-Sunday matches suffer results-wise. With debates raging about how seriously Liverpool should take the Europa League — and how strong the sides should be that Jürgen Klopp picks in the competition — The Anfield Wrap’s GLENN PRICE spoke to world-renowned Dutch fitness coach Raymond Verheijen, who studied 27,000 football matches to demonstrate a performance drop off when teams have only two days’ recovery.
“YOU can prove that when the rest between games is only two days then the team has a significantly less chance of winning games. It’s unfair play,” says Raymond Verheijen.
The Dutch coach, renowned for his expertise on fitness, has been part of the coaching set-up with the Dutch and Russian national teams, as well as an acting consultant for Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City in years gone by.
He produced a study back in 2012, based on research from 27,000 games, in which he concluded that teams playing just on just two day’s recovery against teams that had enjoyed at least three days to recuperate were 42 per cent less likely to win.
Even before these findings, teams, especially English sides, tended to wince at the idea of the Europa League given the short time in between games and understandably so. Tottenham Hotspur in particular have suffered in the past, while closer to home many pointed the finger at Liverpool’s trip to Russia to face Rubin Kazan when the Reds were defeated at Anfield by Crystal Palace.
But as Jürgen Klopp recently pointed out, it’s the same in the Champions League for teams playing on a Wednesday and quickly turning around to play on the Saturday.
Many would predict a slow-start on a Sunday afternoon for a side coming off the back of a midweek European adventure, but Verheijen’s data suggests otherwise — it’s the end of the match that coaches, players and fans alike should fear.
“The team has a significantly less chance of winning games mainly because in the last 30 minutes they score less goals and concede more, which is clearly a sign of fatigue,” he told TAW.
“The same study proved that teams that had three days or more rest showed no negative effect. Three days is enough (for recovery). Several football associations are now using the outcome of the study to optimise the schedule of their teams.”
Verheijen pointed to leagues in Spain, Portugal, Russia and Ukraine, where they give teams the opportunity to play on Fridays if they have to play Champions League the following Tuesday.
He added: “Or they can play on Monday if they have played in the Europa League on Thursday. Some FAs are helping their teams perform in Europe. It’s that last half an hour where the difference is. It’s clearly a sign that fatigue is a reason.”
Verheijen concedes that there’s no nailed-down reason as to why a team suffers from a hangover following a midweek fixture, but the two days’ rest complicates matters in terms of recovery, preparation and injury prevention.
“The next day after a game players are understandably tired but what you see is that muscle soreness is often worse on the second day after the game,” he says. “This is when the body of the players is at its worst level.
“ It’s is also the last day before the next game, so the coach will train on that day and one of the reasons why players are tired during the following game, after two days’ rest, is because the coach will want to do too much and train too hard to prepare the team for the game (because of the lack of time).
“And it’s already proven that when you have two days’ rest there are more injuries compared to three days’ rest. If you don’t recover between games then what you do is accumulate fatigue over time. If you start a game still tired from the previous game and then you get tired from that game, then you’re accumulating fatigue.
“Your nervous system will get slower so the signal from your brain to your muscles travels slower. That means you’re making explosive football actions like sprinting, rotating, bending and jumping with a slower nervous system.
“As a result, your body is relatively unprotected during those explosive actions because when you rotate, the muscles around your knee have to contract to stabilize your knee. But if the signal from your brain to your muscle contracting the knee is slower then you have the risk that you’re already rotating while the signal has not arrived at the knee yet and the muscles around the knee haven’t contracted yet.
“You’re already rotating with an already unprotected knee and then your ACL will snap.”
It just relays the importance of getting the recovery for players right. Teams are now going to the great lengths to help their players by starting the recovery process during games and dealing with the often underestimated mental fatigue that comes with playing elite football with little rest in between.
Verheijen says: “These days you already have fluids that you can consume during the game that contain proteins, which are the building blocks to muscle recovery. Even during the game the body is already repairing muscles for recovery. Obviously, the recovery takes place straight after the game, too, in terms of restoring the energy with carbohydrates and repairing the muscles with proteins.
“The newest development in terms of recovery and nutrition is working with what you call neurotransmitters, which is basically the nutrition for the brain. The muscles are the slaves of the brain, so you can recover the muscles in terms of carbohydrates and proteins but then you’re only recovering the slaves not the brain as well.
“Working with neurotransmitters, you’re feeding the brain so that it’s optimising and performing better in the next game.”
However, even with all these advances in technology and innovative ways to ensure that players are in the best shape possible, Verheijen explains that the best method is a natural one.
“Sleep is the most important element.” the 44-year-old explains.
“Because of the adrenalin after a game, players sleep late, light and sleep for a short amount of time. The most important component in recovery (sleep) is compromised because of the adrenaline. Then the club might say, ‘because the players don’t sleep well after the game anyway, we might as well fly home immediately after the game’.
“But if you go into the swimming pool straight after the game, what you see is that, because of the higher blood circulation, that the body breaks down the adrenaline, meaning that the players go to bed with less of this in their system. They go to bed and they’ll sleep earlier, deeper and longer. This is what we used to do during Euros or World Cups when you have very little time in between games.”
Klopp has dismissed the idea of fielding a weaker side in the Europa League, and that was underlined by the team that took the field against Bordeaux last night. And Verheijen echoes the German’s sentiments.
He says: “The most important thing in football is communication and that understanding between players. This communication between your best 11 players is what makes you win games.
“But if you’re rotating your team, then your players have to play together having hardly trained together in a certain formation for example. You start playing formations with teams that have very low levels of communication and experience of using it.
“If you play with your best 11 all the time then at some stage players will learn to read each other’s body language. They can already see what somebody else wants. That means that there will more communication and less mistakes. You’ll perform better.
“So rotating your team to avoid fatigue and injuries isn’t necessarily the right thing to do because you’re reducing the chance to win games.”
After all his time and research devoted to his lengthy study, Verheijen offers a simple and logical solution to make it a level playing field for those involved in European competitions: “It’s crucial that the governing bodies make a mandatory rule of at least three days in between games.”
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo