How mileage affects results, and why sacking the boss is not helpful

By Tony Attwood

I’ve no doubt that the recent run of results comes about from the tactical revolution that Mikel Arteta has introduced, and the changes made to the team.  By bringing in players who were able to adjust to that tactical revolution and develop the style of football he wants the club to play, he’s produced a new Arsenal.

However, we have noticed this season that Manchester United have attempted to introduce the same tactic that started the Arteta revolution (cut out the tackling), and yet for them it has not been going well.  Indeed if we consider current form in the shape of the last six games, then Man U are 18th in the league table.  They have one win and one draw in those six, compared with Arsenal’s four wins and two draws.

But as I have touched on in the past, there is a second benefit we have this season.  Not one that we have deliberately sought, but one that we have been given: no European games.  And slowly the media is picking up on this – although reading some of their commentaries one might even think that it is the prime cause of the upturn in our fortunes.

But certainly, the travelling done by the players has been minimised.   The Fishy website conveniently gives the details of the distance travelled by players of each club in the last 15 days and we can see from that, that while Arsenal players have travelled 137km in going to and from football matches, Chelsea have travelled 1381km – ten times as far as Arsenal.

Arsenal are not actually the greatest beneficiaries of not playing in Europe, as Watford have recorded just 22km and Aston Villa 181km, and neither of those clubs are doing very well, but still, I am sure there is a benefit in terms of allowing slightly injured players to recover at home or at the club, rather than on a plane and in a hotel room.

My point, therefore, is not that each of these factors that are mentioned in our articles, such as the lack of tackling or the absence of European games, is the sole cause of our rise up the league of late, but that each one helps somewhat.

Another factor must be that we have the youngest regular lineup in the Premier League.  Of course, the team is not exclusively made up of youngsters, but we have a rare array of young talent mixed in with the older players.   The adage about not winning things with kids might be true, but having talented young players, working alongside older teammates can be an incredibly powerful combination.

Yet another factor arises from the ability of the club to ignore the shouts of the Black Scarf Movement, Arsenal Supporters Trust and others, and retain stability at the club after flirting for a while with managerial changes.   Arteta’s position looks secure – and that is important in November, for November is traditionally the month in which most managerial sackings occur in the Premier League.

And managerial change is normally bad news for the clubs that indulge in knee jerk reactions.   Replacing a manager can work – the players know they are being seen by a new man who might simply replace the player and bring in a new face, and so the effort level collectively rises.   But in the majority of cases, the club that was in trouble sinks back to its previous level.

For some clubs, constantly replacing managers can work (Chelsea is the obvious example), but that is because they are willing to spend whatever it takes to build the new team that the new manager demands.  And indeed that explains why Tottenham find the policy fails so often – the money that Chelsea spend simply isn’t available in White Hart Lane. 

The reporting of football doesn’t help either, as journalists only look at the short term, and want easy stories.  So several defeats in a row and that gives them a story about the manager going, and speculative pieces about the man who will replace him.  (Remember we had it with Arsenal for the first few games this season).  The journalists don’t actually believe the manager is going to be replaced, but rather like the transfer stories with the very low level of accuracy, it is a way of filling space without doing any work.  And few people other than the writers of this site ever hold them to account.

It is of course possible that a few clubs sack their managers in order to benefit from the bounce effect of the new man, but mostly it is just because the owners can’t think of anything else to do.  And they make the incredibly stupid mistake of reading the newspapers or watching TV sports channels.

One Reply to “How mileage affects results, and why sacking the boss is not helpful”

  1. I suspect it is a mix of mileage jet lag/time zone movement, total number of games played by your core players and the amount of time that these things take away from time on the practice pitch to improve performance and prepare for specific opponents.

    It is no surprise that in the last 10 years ManU had a big rebound after the Moyes experiment, Chelsea after Mourinho’s departure and Leicester in their championship year all played reduced schedules.

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