Explained: Why and How will fatigue play a role at the Euros?
The 2020/21 football season has been like no other before it. After the previous season was ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, this campaign has been a lot more congested in a bid to make up for lost time and cram in more games.
In most leagues across the world, what would normally be a season contested over 10 months has been squeezed into just eight. Major international tournaments like the World Cup, while undeniably thrilling, are always somewhat of a strain on the players involved as they come at the end of a season.
These competitions feature the top players from each country, who are more likely to have not only played in their respective leagues but also gone deep in tournaments like the Champions League.
So, whether coaches and players will admit it or not, fatigue is an issue, and perhaps never more so than heading into this year’s Euros. The competition, which kicked off on June 11, had already been impacted by Covid-19 as it was supposed to take place last year but was pushed back by 12 months.
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RESEARCH ON FATIGUE IN FOOTBALL
Now, new research from Betsson has revealed that teams and players involved in Euro 2020 might be significantly impacted by fatigue and exhaustion. The company has looked at the number of minutes played by teams and their players in the 2020/21 season, as well as the number of injuries they’ve suffered and games they’ve missed as a result.
Having been warned three months ago that his squad, the current favourites to win the Euros, could suffer from fatigue and burnout, France head coach Didier Deschamps is dealing with the most active roster of players during this season.
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The players who make up the French squad have played a combined total of 1079 matches during the regular season, more than any other team in the Euros. In fact, that is roughly 20% more than the average for all other teams in the competition, which is 857 games.
Combine those figures with the fact that the current World Cup holders are under pressure to replicate their success in that 2018 competition, a fact conveyed by how they are expected by bookmakers to win this year’s Euros, and it’s clear to see how the star-studded squad could be under a lot of stress.
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However, it’s England forward Marcus Rashford who is the player with the most games during the regular 2020/21 season, having entered the field 56 times for Manchester United. He also picked up four injuries and knocks in that time, including two shoulder injuries.
England coach Gareth Southgate appears to be aware of that, only playing Rashford for the final stages of his team’s victory over Croatia in their opening game of the tournament. Indeed, Southgate had previously said he is being cautious “not to break any of these players.”
FIXTURES AND INJURIES KEEP PILING UP
According to ESPN, a staggering 76 players have amassed at least 5,000 minutes on the pitch during the season. In 2017/8, only 29 players had done so.
The congested schedule of the 2020/21 season brought about by Covid-19 also, unsurprisingly, led to a lot of injuries and illness among players, though none more so than Italy’s Marco Verratti. His country is the most injury-laden squad of the season with players missing a total of 164 games between them.
Over the course of the season, he was injured eight times and contracted Covid-19 twice, resulting in 25 games missed in total. However, it was Belgium’s Eden Hazard who missed the most amount of games through injury, being sidelined for a total of 33 games due to seven separate issues.
According to Betsson’s data, Finland is the least affected squad when it comes to fatigue or exhaustion. Their players only appeared in 561 games during the season, less than any other country, for a total of 41,893 minutes of playing time. Their squad has also suffered the least injuries, just 11 over the course of the season. Hungary’s players also fared quite well, only suffering 15 injuries or illnesses.
Of course, coronavirus itself and the symptoms it can cause has also been an issue for many players. In fact, according to Betsson, it has accounted for 18.7% of missed games from players across Europe. Sweden’s Pierre Bengtsson has suffered the most from Covid-19, contracting the virus on three separate occasions over the course of this season.
While it remains to be seen just how much of an effect the demanding schedule of the 2020/21 league season will have on the teams and players involved in Euro 2020, it seems safe to say that it will at least play a part. With so many countries featuring players that appeared in a variety of different competitions during the season, a lot of these squads will not have had long to recover before the Euros began.
As well as the physical toll that can take, it can also have mental effects as well, with players not having much downtime to refresh themselves, plus they have been playing under sustained periods of pressure and expectation.
So, this year’s Euros have numerous storylines to consider, though perhaps none will be more influential than the potential issue of fatigue.