By Sam Bannister
With no Premier League football taking place over the weekend due to the international break, managers across the country will be worrying about the amount of gametime their players are getting.
Managers have long complained about the excessive schedule facing their players in the modern era, with players jetting off for international duty when their club coaches would much rather see them rest.
But does international duty have a positive or negative effect on players when they report back to their clubs?
The top six club with the biggest representation in the England national team across 2018 has been, perhaps unsurprisingly, Tottenham Hotspur. Harry Kane captained the side at the World Cup, while Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose and Eric Dier have all been regular features in the national side. Spurs players have accounted for a combined total of 1,561 minutes in England games in 2018 – not including the World Cup and its warm-up fixtures held after the end of the 2017-18 season. In contrast, Arsenal have had the least representation, with Danny Welbeck accounting for just 84 minutes of England duty. So, what effect has this had on the respective clubs?
Despite the heavy workload for their England players, Tottenham have coped quite well. They won their first games back after the March and October international breaks, even though their England players had played in the region of 15 hours of football for their country. However, when their players were most heavily involved – in the September break – the effect was negative, as they lost their following game. Liverpool, whose England players had played around one-third of the amount of minutes that Spurs’ had, beat Mauricio Pochettino’s side 2-1.
At the other end of the spectrum, Arsenal have benefitted from limited England involvement. The Gunners have a 100% winning record coming back from the international break this calendar year, with their players involved least for the Three Lions compared to their top six rivals.
However, the side with the next lowest number of minutes for England players, Chelsea, have had mixed fortunes. Their record in 2018 has seen them win one, draw one and lose one of their immediate post-international break fixtures. Interestingly, the loss came after the break in which none of their players had featured for Gareth Southgate, in March. Perhaps playing during the international break does not have adverse effects on club form, but momentum is key.
Alongside Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool are the only other sides to have won all three of their games after international breaks this year. However, their players have featured for England heavily, clocking 2,000 combined minutes. Despite the heavy workload, City’s England stars have managed to inspire victories over Everton, Fulham and Burnley, whilst Liverpool have overcome Crystal Palace, Tottenham and Huddersfield. There have been no signs of rust as the two title challengers have continued their good form.
So, perhaps managers are wrong when they assume that the hectic international schedule is having negative effects on their players. Man City and Liverpool have shown that even when their players are returning from international duty with a lot of gametime under their belts, they can still perform when they make the transition back to club football. Meanwhile, with Chelsea struggling to perform upon their return to domestic action despite their England players not featuring heavily – a trend which has continued under two different managers – perhaps it’s time for managers to accept the benefits of international duty. English players seem to be coming back from international breaks not fatigued, but reinvigorated, making big contributions as they help their sides to positive results.