Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Europa League. A Curse or a Blessing.

The Europa League emerged in it's present format in 2009/10 and is the secondary European competition for teams who fall just below Champions League standard.It's an amalgamation of the UEFA Cup,the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup and the mysterious Intertoto Cup.The Inter Cities Fairs Cup is also a distant ancestor.

After an initial round of knock out ties the format comprises a group format,before reverting to two legged knock out football to determine the single game finalists.Therefore,teams can find themselves playing a considerably increased fixture list if they progress to the group stages.It's been long suggested that the added burden of European football can have a detrimental effect on a team's domestic form because of the increased travel and the increased risk of player fatigue.If there is any truth in this belief,the effect is most likely going to be evident in the Europa League.Not only does the competition comprise of teams who are less likely to be able to maintain high quality squads of players,thus enabling squad rotation to take place with little loss in overall quality,but the games are almost always played on a Thursday night meaning that the participating teams have the smallest possible turn around before their league game on the Sunday.If fatigue,travel and inevitable lack of time to prepare for Sunday's league game is going to impact on domestic results,we should see a noticeable drop off in performance in games immediately following a Europa League match.

I therefore took every Sunday EPL game following a Europa League tie for Aston Villa,Man City,Portsmouth and Tottenham during 2008/09 and for Everton and Fulham during 2009/10 and projected a pre game estimate of how many league points each team would be expected to gain in those games.I used a weighted average of each team's overall abilities measured over the previous 30 games to arrive at the pre game ratings and I also repeated the process separately for all games played by the teams following a non Europa week.Games where both teams had played Europa League football the previous Thursday were discarded.

Expected Points totals verses Actual Points totals for Europa League participants 2008/09 and 2009/10.

Game Type. Number of
% Difference Points Per
Game Difference.
After Europa
53 73.0 66 -9.6 -0.13
After Non
Europa Week.
228 240.0 236 -1.7 -0.018

As we can see over fifty games following a Europa League round of games are included,so we have achieved a reasonable sample size by combining the records of the six English participants.By incorporating the remainder of the games played by these teams during the relevant season we can try to account for any systematic bias in the ratings system used.The group of teams underperformed their pre game ratings by just under 2% in a non Europa League week,therefore we are looking to see an under performance well in excess of this figure for games following a Europa week before we are able to suggest that the closeness of a midweek game could be detrimental to league performance.Tentatively,that appears to be what happens.The six teams under perform their expectation by almost 10% after a Thursday foray into European action.That equates to 0.13 points lost per game compared to how their ratings would have suggested they would perform.Over a typical Europa campaign of say 8 games,that knocks about a point of their final league total compared to non participation in Europe.

The reasons for this drop in performance is fairly easy to see,especially if team's are travelling both in Europe and in their subsequent EPL game.If teams travel to their European fixture on the Wednesday,play the game on the Thursday,return Friday morning,travel to their EPL game Saturday and play Sunday,there remains precious little time to prepare for the league game.

Because we are inevitably talking about small sample sizes for individual teams,it isn't a given that Europa League involvement definitely leads to poor post game performance leading to an impact on final league position.It's perfectly possible that some teams could perform better after playing in Europe,we are after all just talking about a relatively small number of game for each individual team.Fulham alone of the six teams included,appeared to show an improvement following Thursday Europa action.However,overall the teams as a group would be expected to under perform compared to the rest of their seasonal results.

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