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
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I like his (decent enough if imperfect) scientific approach. But one major aspect of this that nobody has figured out yet is the perception (whether true or not) that thurs/sun(EL) is more punishing than wed/sat(CL). It appears that EL teams do suffer more in the EPL but maybe this has to do with flying 6hr to qarabag or 9hrs to kazan…which is less likely in the CL. If anyone knows of a blog with decent stats relating to this conundrum i’d love to read it.
A “respected PL manager” once said that regularly playing Thursday/Sunday had a mental impact in that it felt like playing catch up all the time – this was a manager who prized an 11th place PL finish over European success though, but I wonder if he has a point. if you say something often enough eventually you end up believing it.
Is it also be to do with the quality of teams competing in the Champions league compared to Europa? (Generally)Richer teams, with bigger, better squads in CL.
Might be a marginal difference but when you play Thurs/Sunday the team that you are playing on Sunday has usually had an extra day to prepare.
the way I see it, its one more game and then 2 months or so of not worrying about. That’s around 15 games with no EL impact to worry about.
We’ll deal with it when it comes round again.
And while the Europa League may be put on hold the league cup and FA cup kicks into gear, plus the extra league matches thrown in over the Xmas period.
Those that own the tv rights call the shots, the FA couldn’t give a shit who played when and how many.
The last view by Michael is spot on. International breaks to play mind numbing and often futile friendliest along with all the other club commitments flies in the face of what is best practice for physical and mental condition for elite players. Although the piece also raises the fascinating topic of what is best practice In terms of training, static stretches etc.
In all probability the FA is forced to live off scraps compared with the Premier League when considering the need to pay off the national dept that is Wembley Stadium, however surely that must be virtually done with the fully comprehensive annual events which also generate revenue for the FA coffers.
It’s all about generating revenue when playing games at the worst possie times. And leading on from what Raymond is saying in terms of when then euro transmitters are at their weakest levels, does participating in futile friendlies at rediculous intervals with low motivation levels and low body adrenalin content contribute to these serious knee injuries? The amount of LFC who suffer serious injuries whilst on England duties seriously gets you thinking.
Neil. It has to be said you have surpassed yourself with this piece which is a brilliant back up to your stance relating to the priority of Premier league V Eoropa League.
Talk about amazing value for £5 a month. I just couldn’t live without TAW and I’ve been asking myself what I did with my spare time before April this year when I got the bug. Admittedly it is becoming a bit all too consuming and I need to get a grip. WTF. Fucking great stuff!!
Close this down now! Don’t let Daniel see this whatever you do!
Give me a £100k a week and I’ll run through a brick wall every day of the week.And I guarantee that despite a few cuts and bruises I’ll be happy to run through them again and again as long as you want me to.
Attach me to your monitors and sensors all you like.But if I want to run through them……then I will!
It all depends on if I want to!
I’m pretty sure all (most) the players want to.
I only played semi pro, but even then, the stretches where I played three games in 9-10 days were killers, and by the third game, my “want to” was still there, but the body didn’t always comply. And the article makes complete sense. The last 30 minutes were always the worst. An exhausted body just doesn’t do what the mind and will wants it to do.
Throw in the pressure and pace of top-level football, and no amount of money can incentivise a fatigued body.
We seemed to be playing every other day towards the end of Houllier’s treble season,….didn’t do too badly.Taking on board Raymond’s point though, we should go for an early blitz, get 3 goals up and make 3 subs on 60.
What V. does not seem to get is that ‘rotation’ is not JUST so that players are ‘fresher’ and ‘better rested’, it’s also so that the entire squad gets actual game time, with each other, deployed in the positions they’re likely to play in an actual game, etc.
There’s no clear logical or empirical basis for privileging rotation over periodisation training, which is what V. is all about.
If you only play your “best (available) XI” and then one of them gets injured or is out for disciplinary reasons, the player who’s been warming the bench and not getting any chances at actually playing real, competitive games is suddenly thrust into the first team and is expected to live up to THE BEST of the player whom he’s relieving. It’s unlikely to happen, and it’s unfair to expect it to happen.
From what I’ve seen, Klopp uses a hybrid approach. As with everything else about his coaching and managing, it seems great.