“This was our 50th game today, which goes a little bit unnoticed. With all the travelling involved as well, that’s tough. Clubs will look at us and the impact it can have, because it’s not only the extra games but the injuries we’ve had on the back of that. There’s no doubt that our league position would be greater. We’ve had to pay a heavy penalty on the Sundays, not just for Sunderland but for previous games. Swansea are going to find that next year – it’s difficult, unless you really increase the size of your squad.” - Johnstone’s Paint trophy winner Alan Pardew after Newcastle United’s game with West Bromwich Albion.
“I know one year that Barcelona played with 19 first-team players, as well as a few younger players, and they played every three days. It is possible.” - Swansea manager Michael Laudrup, winner of 15 major trophies as a player and 5 as a manager on Swansea’s entry into European competition next season.
“We have a short squad, but it is my decision that the squad is short because I want a squad of 20 players, no more, with the risks a short squad has, but also with the good things a short squad has. The good things are that the side is competitive, everybody feels part of it. So I hope I don’t read again “Mourinho wants more players,” because I don’t want more players. I’m happy with the short squad I have, with the good things and the bad things.” - Jose Mourinho, winner of 20 major trophies as a manager and whose Real Madrid team played 58 games last season.
Tiredness from the club’s Europa League matches has been used by Alan Pardew many times this season to excuse Newcastle United’s poor form. Indeed, tiredness and injuries have been the two most common in Pardew’s considerable repetoire, which have even included blaming the tactics used by the opposition. Though blaming both tiredness AND injuries could be seen as mutually contradictory, after all, if player are injured, they will almost always be replaced by players with fresher legs, even if they are of slightly lesser abilty. That’s another ‘blog though so let’s get back to this one.
In this piece I will show that there are many teams who have had far more punishing schedules, with many of their players playing well over 40 games a season, sometimes over fifty, and in rare cases even over 60. I will do this by looking at examples of English teams in Europe from recent seasons (including this one), and how their situation compares with Newcastle United’s with the added burden of their 14 Europa League appearences this season.
Chris Hughton and Birmingham City – 2011-12 season (62 games).
Even before a ball had been kicked in the 2011-12 Championship season, Birmingham City was in tatters. Months after winning their first major domestic trophy since 1963 and for only the second time in their history, they were relegated and in financial chaos. Then, their owner Carson Yeung was arrested on suspicion of money laundering. As if that wasn’t enough, they also had the burden of Europa League competition to deal with, just as Pardew did with Newcastle this season. Fifteen of their players, mostly the best ones, departed the club after their exit from the Premiership, and many more were to follow throughout the season too.
Just as he did with Newcastle two seasons previously, Hughton came in and steadied the ship, patching up the squad mostly with loan signings and out of contract free agents. Their season consisted of constant midweek games and fixture congestions whether it was for the Championship, the Europa League or one of the other cup competitions. Eventually, Birmingham’s season added up to a total of 62 games with one of their squad, Chris Burke, making 61 appearences. In addition to this, another two further players, Curtis Davies and Captain, Steven Caldwell, both made over 50 appearences, with a further seven players making between 40 and 49 appearences throughout the season. Hughton called on a total of 24 players, or 29 if you count Academy players who only made very brief substitute appearences in one or two matches.
In a season when quite a few expected them to be fighting relegation, they almost clinched promotion instead. Despite being asked about it several times, Hughton would refuse to use tiredness as an excuse, even when they eventually fell at the last hurdle of promotion back to the Premiership in the playoffs.
Roy Hodgson and Fulham – 2019-10 season (63 games).
Another example is that of Fulham, who played 63 games in the 2009-10 season under Roy Hodgson, reaching the final of the Europa League in the process. In all competitions, even counting highly peripheral players such as Kagisho Dikgacoi (who only played 5 minutes over the whole season) he drew on a total pool of 29 players. In that season, Hodgson had 10 players who made over 40 appearences that season, with 6 making over 50 appearences and keeper, Mark Schwarzer, making 60.
Having written that, it must also be pointed that Fulham’s Premiership finish did decline five places from that of the previous season, from 7th (a record for them) to 12th, though once again, Hodgson didn’t constantly blame tiredness for the drop.
Tony Pulis and Stoke City – 2011-12 season (56 games).
Looking at a side play in the more primitive and physically demanding style of direct “route one” football favoured by Pardew, Tony Pulis’s Stoke City played in the Europa League last season through being in the FA Cup final. Despite playing total of 56 games, drawing from a total pool of only 27 players, with 9 making over 40 appearences and Jonathan Walters making 54, their League position only dropped one place from 13th to 14th.
Now, to put these examples in perspective in relation to Newcastle United’s current season so far, Pardew has called on a total of 35 players, or 36 if you include Paul Dummett’s solitary 45 minute substitute appearence against Brighton in the FA Cup. There are only two players in the whole of their squad who could finish this season having played over 40 games, Papiss Cisse and Davide Santon. If they play in the remaining four games of the season (though Santon is currently on the injury list at the time of writing) they will could make a maximum of 46 and 42 appearences respectively as their totals for the current season so far are 42 and 38 currently, Behind them, there is a gaggle of players with 35 appearences. That’s it. I could cite many other examples just from last season or this season. I have deliberately kept away from examples at the very top such as Jose Mourinho’s “short” Real Madrid squad, who played a total of 58 games, or even their big rivals, Barcelona, who played 64 games with 14 players making over 40 appearences, 6 over 50, and Lionel Messi making 60.
Looking at other English clubs who were in Europe last season and this, Chelsea played 61 games last season on their way to winning the Champions League, Manchester City played 55, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal played 54, and finally Liverpool played 52 games. This season, Chelsea have had to play another 61 games and their season isn’t over yet. Along with Newcastle United, Manchester United and Liverpool have played 50 games, with Arsenal and Tottenham one game behind on 49. Finally, we have Manchester City on only 46 so far.
For this season I have prepared a table below showing how Newcastle compares with the other teams who have been on European competition. It shows how many games they have played in all competitions, their league positions, how many players thay have used in total over the season and fianlly, how many have made over 40 appearences. It is ordered by the amount of players in each squad who have made over 40 appearences, with the the team who have the least first. If teams have the same amount of players with over 40 appearences, then they have been split by the amount of players they have used throughout the season.
|English clubs in Europe, 2012-13.|
LP – League Position.
PU – Total amount of players used over the course of the season.
40+ – Amount of players who have made over 40 appearences.
So, in conclusion, it seems that Pardew’s prating about tiredness doesn’t quite add up when you look at the evidence of other clubs.