‘You can have three bacon butties in a row but the first one won’t taste as nice as the first.’
The above is a quote by former Manchester United defender and current Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville speaking on an episode of Monday Night Football in late 2012. Proving that there is method to his madness, Neville uses the bacon roll remark as a metaphor for the fact that if players play three games in a week, their performances in the third game will be greatly diminished from their ones in the first game.
The concept of players burning out is always a topical one in football with managers saying certain individual players are playing too many games and that if they aren’t managed correctly they will have injury problems later on in their career. But the ‘bacon roll’ idea can be expanded on and applied to entire teams.
Playing in European competitions such as the Champions League and Europa League brings added prestige to a club but it also brings its drawbacks. Being in these competitions brings with it the added hardship of extra games. And since they can’t interfere with the scheduled league matches on the weekend, they have to be played in midweek.
This means that in between their two games at the weekend players will have to play a top European team, sometimes in a foreign country. This extra match leads to tiredness and sometimes injuries so the match at the weekend will be played at a lower intensity and sometimes with different personnel then the manager would have originally intended. So the team who played in Europe during the week will be at a disadvantage from the start, especially if the opposition had no game in midweek and are fresh for the game.
Thus, where the phrase ‘European Hangover’ comes from.
We are only one matchday into the European campaign and already some Premier League teams are showing the effects of playing three games in a week. Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham all played in Europe last week and then all suffered home defeats. The teams that beat them as well were probably the biggest shock as you wouldn’t imagine any of Crystal Palace, West Ham or West Brom finishing in the top half of the table.
It takes teams many years to adjust to playing in Europe and they need a few years where they consistently qualify for European competitions to fully understand how to manage your squad and preparations for it. Manchester United were the masters of getting the result in the Champions League and then still winning the following weekend. It is not really surprise that of all the English teams playing in Europe that Arsenal were the only team to win their Premiership match at the weekend after playing in the Champions League in the midweek. The Gunners have qualified for Europe’s Premier club competition for the last 17 years in a row and Arsene Wenger knows exactly how to manage his squad for those occasions.
Everton haven’t been involved in European competitions for a few years so they will understandably need a bit of time to adjust. It is Liverpool’s first year back in the Champions League after a four year hiatus and with an entirely different squad from the last time; they will also need a settling in period. The Tottenham situation is a different one though with them having been involved in the Europa League for the last three seasons but yet they still tend to lose after their travels across the continent.
The time it takes to adapt to playing in Europe is different for every team. Look at Manchester City with their talented squad of star studded players and yet it still took them three attempts to get through the group stages. So look out for the Premiership results the weekend after the next round of European fixtures because a few underdogs might just take three points from a European hopeful.