February 15, 2018

Football Data Analysis: Pep Guardiola and the English Fixture Schedule – Thursday 15th February

Premier League, the only Big 5 league without a winter break

It is a truth (that seems to be) universally acknowledged that the English fixture scheduled is packed to the rafters, with no winter break, and that this congestion is bad for players.

What’s more – and worse! – this fixture congestion could, it is known (it is known!) do serious damage to Pep Guardiola’s attempts to win a quadruple with Manchester City. Their squad depth is so troublesome that they had to field only six substitutes, dontcha know.

The headline takeaway from a study headed by noted Twitter egg and successful coach Raymond Verheijen was that teams that play again after only two rest days (eg playing on a Saturday and again on a Tuesday) score 70% fewer goals in the last half hour of matches and concede 75% more.

Just how bad is England for this? The results of this article will amaze you (maybe).

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Let’s set the scene for a minute. England, the cold, traditional, corporatist wasteland that it is has never had a winter break and continues to resist calls to implement one, the TV opportunities just too great to overcome the supposed benefits of player health and safety.

Sure enough, Manchester City’s fixture schedule this season has a notable spike over the festive months.Football Data Analysis Gamer per month

Note: These figures do not include games which City *could* play towards the end of the season if they stay in the FA Cup and Champions League.

Sure enough, these months also saw a large number of games taking place after two or fewer rest days. In fact, both December and January saw four of these. Four! That’s almost as many games as taking place in whole months.Football Data Analysis Games after few rest days

Bayern Munich, with their smaller domestic league and therefore four fewer games to fit in, will have spoiled Guardiola, but surely his time at Barcelona will have been nice and leisurely and siesta-ly in comparison, right?Football data analysis Games after few rest day Man City v FC Barcelona

Ignoring the end of the season, where we haven’t yet added in games that City could still play in but aren’t confirmed to do so, Guardiola’s time at Barcelona tracks in a slightly similar way to this season with Manchester City.

October and November seem busier, presumably to partially make up for the winter break in December, although on average they only included two more games than City’s 2017/18 (thirteen versus eleven).

But January at Barcelona saw just as many games and just as many quick turnarounds as this current season with Man City.

It’s simply a matter of numbers.Football data analysis Games per month Man City v Barcelona

Barcelona averaged just under 62 games in all competitions during Guardiola’s time as manager there. City is on course for 55, with another potential 8 in the FA Cup and Champions League if they reach the finals of both.

All of these games have to be squeezed in somewhere.

The lack of a winter break in England does lead to more of a concentration of games in these months than others. Even if City play every match possible for the rest of the season, they’ll have played nearly 27% of their matches in these two winter months, while Pep’s Barcelona averaged just a little over 20%.

This being a World Cup year has not helped in terms of spreading the load of games throughout the campaign. There are just two Premier League games scheduled for May this season – Barcelona in the Guardiola years averaged over four La Liga games in this final footballing month.

Just as the amount of times a team has to quickly turnaround with little rest is perhaps a better indication of footballing-stress than the flat average number of rest days, the benefits of an extended break probably cannot be boiled down to its effect on the mean.

It’s not just the players who need time to breathe (and even if they play friendlies in far-off places, these will be of a lesser intensity than competitive fixtures), coaches need time to prepare and analyse games as well.

Will the lack of a winter break spoil Man City’s season? I’d have to defer to Verheijen on the value of a two-week opposed to one-week rest before commenting.

By @EveryTeam_Mark

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