How many players does a club need and just how much of a problem do injuries bring?



Premier League football injuries

By Tony Attwood

As we know the number of players that can be registered for a Premier League side who are over 21 years old is 25.  Which is worth remembering when we find that last season Nottingham Forest used 33 players while Chelsea used 32.  Behind them were Wolverhampton, Southampton and Bournemouth on 31.   Then came Fulham, Everton, Leeds and Leicester.

The way around the 25 limit of course is twofold.  One is to include a few under 21s in the team, and the other is to go out and change the team in January.

But in terms of improving a club’s season, that actually doesn’t work too well.  Of the top nine clubs in terms of players used only one (Fulham who came 10th in the league table) could have been said to have had a decent season. 

Of course, this doesn’t show cause and effect – it is possible that the using of large numbers of players unsettles a club and takes it down the league.  But it is also possible that using a large number of players happens because a club has slipped down the league and the manager is trying to bring them back up.  But either way, clubs that do well, tend to use fewer players.

And the contrast is stark.  Manchester City used 22 players, Arsenal 26, Chelsea 32 and Nottingham Forest 33.  Forest used 50% more players than Manchester City.

But of course, there are benefits and problems with small squads.    Using fewer players improves consistency when the format is working.  But it tires them out and their form can drop.  Using more players can freshen up the team and allow reserves to develop their skills, but can disrupt a winning formula.

Chelsea lost the most days to injury last season, Arsenal were 18th in the injury league, and Fulham were undoubtedly helped by being 20th.  Brentford, Villa, West Ham Arsenal, Wolverhampton and Fulham each lost under half the days Chelsea lost to injuries.

What is interesting however is how the level of injuries can vary a lot, and how although it is quite common for the club that loses the least number of player days to injury doesn’t always come out on top.

An analysis for the ten years up to 2016/17 for example showed that in the previous ten years the club that lost the least days to injury was also champions of the league three times.  On one other occasion, that club was second.   But in four seasons, the champions were in the bottom half of the table for days lost to injury.  Twice they were in the mid-table range.  So the link between success and low injury numbers is tenuous.

But there is another measure which is interesting which is the number of players used.  Last season the number of players used per Premier League club ranged from 22 (Manchester City) up to 33 (Nottingham Forest) although this measure by itself can be a bit misleading because it doesn’t indicate how many games each player got.   Arsenal were 13th in the “players used” table with 26.

Now what Arsenal appear to be doing at the moment is expanding the squad with quality players who can not only fit into the team as and when needed, but who can also play in multiple positions.   

This is an interesting development not only as a way of covering for injuries but also as a way of confusing the opposition when they get the team sheet of the other team, one hour before kick off.  Normally the arrival of the team sheet is followed by a few tweaks to the system being used by opposing teams to take account of any unexpected changes.  But if you don’t quite know where each player on the other side will play…

This, I think is the route that Arsenal are taking and if we look at the current situation we can see why.

Oleksandr Zinchenko, Declan Rice and Folarin Balogun each missed the game with Barcelona through injuries.  Rice and Balogun are said to have minor problems; Rice was due to a kick in training we were told but Zinchenko’s seems to be taking longer to sort out.   Balogun has been training apart from the rest of the team, something which on occasion leads commentators to suggest the player is about to leave or is in dispute with the club or has been frozen out by his teammates, but can be in order to learn a specific technique.

Arsenal were 18th in the total number of injuries for Premier League clubs last year, on 22,  Fulham were bottom on 19.  Chelsea were top on 48 – which raises the question…. were they deliberately being kicked, was it bad luck, have they brought in players who are susceptible to injury, or is it bad training techniques?

When Arsenal had a run of a high number of injuries over a couple of years the blame was put totally on Wenger’s training techniques, although no one ever supplied any details that looked plausible.  More likely, sometimes the opposition target certain players because they are so hard to play against.  And that is something Arsenal could suffer from in the season ahead.

2 Replies to “How many players does a club need and just how much of a problem do injuries bring?”

  1. Two obvious points.

    Firstly the spread of quality in the squad is important. If you have a very definite first eleven with the rest of the squad essentially there to fill in then any injury to a key player is serious. If on the other hand you have a Man City situation and you can swap out all eleven players if you want then you need a lot of injuries to make any impact. Squad rotation is obviously easier and that in itself will reduce injuries.

    Secondly its not just the number of players, its also the number of games. Probably most clearly shown the season Leicester won the title. Everyone kept telling us they would collapse as their squad wasn’t strong enough to sustain the challenge. This ignored the fact they weren’t playing in Europe and therefore had a lighter workload than the competition. Again fewer games and more time to recover between games will tend to reduce injuries.

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