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Two weeks ago
Aug 1, 2018

How does the World Cup affect Premier League performance?

Will players struggle with fatigue?

Does team performance change after a World Cup?

Can the World Cup benefit Premier League teams?

How does the World Cup affect Premier League performance?

The World Cup is the biggest event in soccer. While fans and bettors get caught up in the excitement, it’s easy to forget that it’s another month of work for the players. Does the World Cup have a negative impact on performance in domestic soccer leagues? Read on to find out.

Thirty-two teams took part in this year’s World Cup in Russia. Over 700 players from numerous domestic leagues played their part in the events that unfolded during the four-week tournament. Many of the players now have very little rest before they have to start their new domestic campaign.

Some leagues (MLS and Chinese Super League being just two examples) continued playing during the World Cup and while others don’t start until later in the year, the top five European soccer league (Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga) all commence in August. This raises the obvious question; what impact does the World Cup have on domestic soccer leagues?

Will players struggle with fatigue?

The main concern for clubs who have players returning from off-season international duty is fatigue. Despite some leagues having a mid-season break (the Premier League the only one of the aforementioned European leagues that doesn’t), the players will have been under increased physical strain over the past six weeks.

Most countries would have started their World Cup preparations less than two weeks after the final game of the domestic season - the majority of them before the very last game of the European soccer season (the Champions League final) had even been played.

Given that players will have been training for three weeks before the tournament commences and then playing as many as seven games in less than four weeks (completely eradicating the usual six week rest period), the adverse effects of fatigue will rightly be a concern.

For the purposes of this article, the data analysed will focus primarily on the Premier League. Below is a breakdown of the top ten Premier League players that exerted themselves the most physically at the 2018 World Cup. 

Most minutes played at the World Cup by Premier League players

Player

Club

Minutes played

John Stones

Manchester City

645

Harry Maguire

Leicester City

645

Kieran Tripper

Tottenham Hotspur

580

Harry Kane

Tottenham Hotspur

573

Kevin De Bruyne

Manchester City

540

Jan Vertonghen

Tottenham Hotspur

540

Paul Pogba

Manchester United

539

Jesse Lingard

Manchester United

527

Eden Hazard

Chelsea

518

Romelu Lukaku

Manchester United

476


Most distance covered by Premier League players at the World Cup

Player

Club

Distance covered (km)

John Stones

Manchester City

69.1

Jesse Lingard

Manchester United

67.8

Kieran Trippier

Tottenham Hotspur

67.6

Kevin De Bruyne

Manchester City

65.4

Harry Maguire

Leicester City

65.1

Harry Kane

Tottenham Hotspur

62.7

Paul Pogba

Manchester United

58.2

Eden Hazard

Chelsea

56.9

Jan Vertonghen

Tottenham Hotspur

55.4

Christian Erikson

Tottenham Hotspur

51.8

 These stats for individual players become more interesting when you group them by teams. 

Most minutes played and distance covered at the World Cup by Premier League teams

Team

Minutes played

Distance covered (km)

Tottenham Hotspur

4,816

515.2

Manchester City

4,583

511.3

Manchester United

3,956

404.7

Chelsea

3,584

337.6

Liverpool

2,094

229.9

Leicester

1,972

190.0

Arsenal

1,820

184.5

Does team performance change from before and after a World Cup?

This year’s World Cup featured 87 Premier League players. This table shows the number of representatives for each team:

Number of players at the World Cup for each Premier League team

Team

Number of representatives

Manchester City

16

Manchester United

12

Tottenham Hotspur

12

Arsenal

8

Leicester City

8

Liverpool

7

Southampton

4

Everton

3

Huddersfield

3

West Ham

3

Brighton

2

Burnley

2

Cardiff

2

Wolves

2

Crystal Palace

1

Fulham

1

Watford

1

Bournemouth

0

Newcastle United

0

It is to be expected that elite teams have greater representation at major international soccer tournaments thus, will arguably be impacted more by fatigue than other teams at the start of the following season.

In order to try and quantify the impact a tournament like the World Cup has on teams in a domestic season, we can compare the points per game average (PPG) from the final ten games of the season before the tournament against the first ten games of the season after a tournament and split teams by above and below average player representation.

The table below looks at Premier League teams performance in terms of average PPG difference from before and after each of the last five World Cup tournaments.

PPG change from before and after a World Cup

 -

PPG change from before and after World Cup

World Cup

Above average representation

Below average representation

1998

-0.11

-0.06

2002

-0.22

+0.16

2006

-0.25

+0.04

2010

-0.12

-0.13

2014

-0.13

-0.03

Obviously there are plenty of caveats that come with this analysis. Average representation is based on the number of players in each international squad and it doesn’t take into account how many minutes they played during the tournament. Additionally, the PPG average is taken from a ten game sample either side of the tournament and the quality of the opponent will not be exactly the same.

Players will have been training for three weeks before the tournament and then playing as many as seven games in less than four weeks, so adverse effects of fatigue will be a concern.

As with any comparison over multiple seasons, it’s important to remember that a lot can happen over the summer break (teams might change manager and recruit new players). It’s also important to consider the change in motivation from the very start of the season when everything is to play for compared to the end when everything might be settled.

Despite the fact that further research would be required before any conclusive results could be found, it is still interesting to note that teams with an above average number of players taking part at a World Cup do appear to suffer a minor drop in performance the following season.

Can the World Cup benefit teams ahead of a domestic campaign?

Although players coming back from a World Cup with fatigue and needing time off during pre-season preparations can be seen as a negative, there are also some potential positives that come with playing throughout the off-season.

The players taking part at the World Cup may be on the verge of “burn out” (physical exhaustion) but continued physical activity will at least maintain fitness levels as opposed to letting them decline during an extended period of rest (although the effects of burn out may arise as the season progresses with little to no rest).

The additional games throughout the World Cup can also help players maintain or improve their form heading into a new domestic campaign. Instead of looking at individual awards such as the Golden Ball (player of the tournament) or Golden Boot (top scorer), taking a more in-depth look at data from the tournament can highlight players who have performed well and may carry good form into the upcoming Premier League season.

There were a few standout performers at the World Cup who play for Premier League teams that could carry that form through to the start of the season. Paul Pogba, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Kieran Trippier, John Stones and Harry Maguire all excelled in chance creation, involvement in attacking process and defensive actions at the 2018 World Cup.

In summary, the effect the World Cup has on Premier League performance is hard to measure. While some research shows a minor dip in performance for teams with an above average number of representatives at the tournament, there are too many caveats and additional external factors that need to be considered.

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