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Will Project Restart Plague Premier League Players with Injuries?

Premier League football is set to return this weekend

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Project Restart to increase risk of injury for Premier League Players.

 

Will Project Restart Plague Premier League Players with Injuries?

Let’s face it we are all eagerly anticipating the return of Premier League football, although some teams may be more reserved about Project Restart and its return. Teams in England’s top flight are starting to ramp up their preparations for the Premier League’s first weekend of fixtures, since its suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the Premier League set to start once again, many open ended questions remain.

As there are so many unknowns on the return of the Premier League, this of course generates lots of speculation and questions. How will home advantage be affected? Will fans congregate outside football grounds? Will we see an increased usage of pitch-side VAR monitors?

 

A restart too premature?

The most important question being raised is how will players manage the lack of training, with matches set to come thick and fast in an unpredictable schedule. The June 17th return date means that teams will have had just three weeks of contact training, which is ultimately a compressed pre-season. Normally teams will utilise a pre-season of roughly six weeks to prepare for competition, this enables coaches and medical staff to build-up the players workload gradually exposing them to the game demands and equally allowing adequate rest. A perfect combination for adaptation and reduced injury risk.

A comparison for this situation is when players return from major tournaments and have a few weeks to get in shape for the new campaign. Even in this situation players are gradually returned to action over a period of games and not just thrown straight in. It has been shown that there was a spike in injuries last season for those players who got to the quarter-finals or latter stages of the 2018 World Cup. Players will have been completing home programmes set by the clubs Sports Science and Medical staff which will likely include running workouts. But the huge differences in workload between those home programmes and that of a major tournament further complicates the comparison.

In addition, clubs will vary in their resources when it comes to how well they are able to manage the transition. For example, squad size is a compounding factor, with teams generally associated with the top half of the table often comprising of large squads compared with the teams associated with the bottom half.

 

Going back to the World Cup comparison, Tottenham were one of the teams most affected by players reaching the latter stages of the 2018 World Cup, nine players in total. Of those nine players, eight of them suffered a time-loss injury (defined as lasting 10 days or more and causing them to miss at least one domestic fixture) in 2018-2019. Of further concern is that they contributed for 21 of Spurs’ 44 injuries last season, a staggering 48 per cent. Compare this with the previous season, where Spurs reported 27 time-loss injuries, an increase of 63 per cent. Players of note included Dele Alli, Eric Dier, and Harry Kane who missed a large chunk of the season through injury, all significant players for Tottenham.

Furthermore, Project Restart had enabled significant players to return from injury ahead of the continuation of the Premier League. This list includes the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Marcus Rashford to name a few. You could make the argument that these players are perhaps at an increased risk of injury given they are only just coming back from an injury. Although, it could be suggested that they are at the same level as the rest of the players. For example, other players have not been playing games every week, they will have been completing similar training to players coming back from injury so will be at more or less the same level.

The story of players coming back from the World Cup and subsequently getting injured at some point during the season continues across Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool. To give some perspective, the number of time-loss injuries of all 47 Premier League players who made it to the 2018 World Cup quarter-finals or further increased by 41.5% from 2017-18.

As mentioned, the differences in workload between a major tournament and that of the lockdown make it difficult to draw comparisons to the current situation. But clubs engage in a pre-season for a specific reason, to build fitness and reduce the risk of injury. So just how a compressed pre-season may affect this remains to be seen.

The schedule, which has been proposed by the Premier League, sees extended periods of two games a week, meaning players could be performing every 3-5 days. This kind of schedule draws similarities to the jam packed festive season. The festive period this season saw a 40% increase in reported injuries in the Premier League from November to December. This schedule will place extra burdens on support staff including coaches, fitness and medical staff, as well as nutritionists, among others who will need to ensure players are able to perform optimally. Scientific research has shown that it takes 72 hours to fully recover from playing a competitive football match, so players may not be able to perform optimally in every game.

This schedule also requires managers to carefully manage their squads. As I mentioned earlier, this could benefit those clubs with larger squads who are used to rotating players to manage the load of European and domestic football. The typical ‘big six’ will have built their squads to specifically manage this kind of workload with players used to this turnaround. Whereas, teams like Sheffield United and Leicester City who are competing with the big boys will have not.

We have seen the successful return of the Bundesliga albeit with a slightly strange feel about it. At first, when Emre Can and Axel Witsel both picked up muscle injuries in training it seemed that the experts who suggested such a quick restart was unfeasible were correct. Although it appears the injury rate reported may have been overstated. Last weekend’s action saw the match-day injury rate return within the normal range.

The introduction of the five substitutes rule may certainly help. But again this all depends on how big a clubs squad is, with the bigger clubs perhaps gaining an advantage again.

Project restart is full of unknowns. This situation has shown clubs that even with a wealth of data available, the Premier League is heading into a world of unknowns. This will ask questions of support staff which have never been asked before. Those who adapt to the situation better will survive, but just how this will those important places at the top and bottom of the league be affected remains unknown.

 

We hope you enjoyed the article ‘Will Project Restart Plague Premier League Players with Injuries?’ Do you think the Premier League was restarted too prematurely? How will the players cope with the demanding schedule? Let us know!

 

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Ben has just completed a Sports and Exercise Science degree at the University of Birmingham. Growing up he was an avid footballer and cricketer, spending time playing county level for Leicestershire Cricket Club. He currently lives in Leicestershire and is a supporter of Leicester City FC. You can contact him at ben.hollings97@hotmail.com

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