By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
Europe. It’s where everyone wants to be. The glamour. The prestige. The cold hard cash.
Some form of European competition is an aim at the beginning of every season. In the absence of actual success, knowing you’ve booked a place to some far flung destination soothes the pain. At least until August when you realise that destination is the back-arse of Belarus to take on the country’s league cup runners-up.
Despite being generally considered a measure of a reasonable amount of success, it’s strange how often European football gets spoken about as if it’s an albatross around the neck. Even managers of teams gleefully milking the cash cow of Champions League football seem resentful to be asked to play in days following a European tie. If it’s not called a distraction, it’ll be called ‘energy-sapping’ and turned into a scape-goat parked until it’s needed to explain a disappointing result.
Reaching the group stage of the tournament nets a club minimum of €3.9 million with €800,000 and €400,000 up for grabs per win and draw respectively. The younger and less attractive brother than is Europa League has a fraction of those riches, but a run to the last four should pocket you in excessive of €3 million providing you haven’t done it all via draws and penalty shoot-outs.
But does midweek European football actually have any impact on domestic results? Does the travel or extra nervous energy expended have an impact on how a team perform when they leave their lavish continental banquet and get back to their comparatively plain bread and butter? Looking at the records from the last few seasons, the Paddy Power Blog has found some teams perform better than others on return to domestic action and it’s not necessarily in the order you might think.
It’s Chelsea who emerge best from their European excursions. Since the 2008/09 season, they’ve been incredibly reliable when they get back to domestic duty, winning their next game an impressive 68 per cent of the time. It’s an impressive stat considering their regular involvement in the latter stages of the Champions League and also the fact in includes the less than successful Andre Villas-Boas era.
Obviously the comparative ease or difficulty of the next domestic game has an impact on the win rate, but they also perform well on the Win When Favourite rate. That’s an attempt to quantify that by putting a figure on how often a team prevailed when they were expected to. Again, it’s an area in which the Pensioners perform strongly, obliging 71 per cent of the time.
The main culprit for complaining about workload is Sir Alex Ferguson. He has suggested in the past the fixtures computer was out to get his team, cleverly manipulating total randomness to schedule important domestic matches after big European nights. The conspiracy stands up like a WAG after a night of knocking back the Cristal.
The truth his Manchester United have been in Europe a lot, so therefore they play more games after European competition than most. Naturally, some of those games are likely to be ones big enough to inspire plenty of melodramatic promotion on Sky Sports. It doesn’t seem to have too much of an impact because United have done pretty well in to their domestic duties coming off the back of continental competition.
They’ve won 59 per cent of the 46 games they’ve played following European games. Considering that figure accounts for no less than 17 games against their biggest rivals (City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea), that’s none too shabby. Their 63 per cent rate of winning when favourite is also rather comforting for punters.
The story behind the story about United is the difference between two eras. In the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons, Fergie’s teams won just 36 per cent of their domestic games after European nights. Since then however, they’ve improved drastically, bumping that figure all the way to 79 per cent. United are 8/15 to beat Aston Villa on Saturday evening and it’s not just Villa’s patchy form that makes that look likely.
Tottenham are the surprise package. They may have something of a reputation for being flaky and unreliable, but they’ve done well after being in European action. They’re still flaky and unreliable, but as that flakiness and unreliability has largely been in the second half of the season when they have fewer European commitments, it doesn’t impact their stats as much as it might. Certainly, if you fancy backing them against City, their European exertions shouldn’t be your biggest concern, but their current form might be.
Arsene Wenger is no stranger to having a grumble about the excessive workload generated by the fixture list, but Arsenal haven’t done too badly after European night. They trail their north London rivals, but not by much and considering the almost constant state of turmoil the Gunners seem to be in in recent seasons, it’s pretty decent. They’ve won 54 per cent of the time and obliged as favourite 61 per cent of the time following their European assignments.
Liverpool and Manchester City
The numbers don’t tell the full story for either Liverpool or Manchester City. One team has been gradually making progress from a low starting point and the other has been standing still after some encouraging signs – to put it politely. Liverpool’s struggles in the league are reflected with a win rate of just 47 per cent after European action. At 23 per cent, they don’t tend to lose too often, but they draw rather a lot. Their 30 per cent rate of post-European stalemates is almost a frustrating and unfulfilling as a Stewart Downing dribble.
City haven’t done too badly since the Arab billions put them back onto the continental stage. They’ve lost a rather high 38 per cent of domestic matches after European games, but that’s largely based on a few seasons when the money hadn’t yet provided a squad with enough quality in-depth to sustain campaigns on two fronts. Having said that, after their latest European campaign, they still might not have enough quality in-depth to sustain campaigns on two fronts.
Newcastle lag way behind. Although their numbers look about as good as Peter Beardsley looking at his reflection in a spoon, they have to be treated with a pinch of comforting salt. The sample size for the Magpies in Europe quite small. They were European regulars in the mid 90s and early naughties, but haven’t had racked up the airmiles quite so much since. Their lowly win rate of 23 per cent is based on just the 13 domestic matches they’ve had in the days following a European tie since the 2006-07 season. I could have gone back further deep into the days of the Intertoto Cup and thinking Titus Bramble might turn into an adequate defender, but that doesn’t seem fair on anyone associated with the Newcastle of today.