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Premier League results suffer after midweek Champions League games

Football stats and philosophy from Kevin Pullein

Tottenham's Moussa Sissoko battles with Thomas Delaney of Dortmund the Champions League Round of 16
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Playing in the Champions League can harm performances in the Premier League – but not for the reason you might have thought.

I studied the Premier League results of Champions League participants over the last 15 seasons, 2003-04 to 2017-18. During that time there was no change in the format of either competition.

I examined results before Champions League games, after Champions League games and at other times.

When neither the previous game nor the next game was in the Champions League, teams averaged 2.06 points. Before Champions League games they averaged 2.05 points. For all practical purposes there was no difference.

There was a difference, though, after Champions League games. Then teams averaged 1.92 points, which is noticeably lower.

In Premier League games that were neither before nor after a Champions League engagement, teams won 62 per cent of the time, drew 21 per cent and lost 17 per cent. After a Champions League fixture they won 56 per cent of the time, drew 24 per cent and lost 20 per cent.

They won six per cent less often, drew three per cent more often and lost three per cent more often. Why?

Most people assume results drop more after playing away in Europe, but this is not so. I separated the Premier League results after Champions League games into those after a home game and those after an away game. In fact, teams did slightly better after an away game – averaging 1.95 points after an away game and 1.89 after a home game. Both figures, though, were worse than for other Premier League games. Why?

The Champions League evolved from the European Cup, which started in 1955. Playing away in the early days could bring surprises.

When Benfica flew into Nuremberg for a 1962 quarter-final first leg they found the pitch covered in snow. Coach Bela Guttmann was Hungarian. Unlike his mixture of Portuguese and African players he was used to snow. He acted light-hearted. “Snow is only a problem,” he told them, “if it’s more than half a metre in height.”

It may have caused Benfica some problems, though. They lost 3-1. They won the second leg 6-0, however.

Benfica had surprises of their own for visitors. In the first round of that 1961-62 season Austria Vienna were upset to learn that the kick-off time for the second leg in Portugal was 11pm. They had drawn the first leg 1-1. Benfica won the second leg 5-1.

Both those stories come from David Bolchover’s biography of Guttmann called The Greatest Comeback.

Travelling across Europe more than half a century ago was not as easy as it is today. Perhaps then going abroad in midweek did have a harmful effect on performances in domestic competition at the weekend.

But that is not why Premier League clubs in recent seasons got worse results after Champions League games – they did so after home games as well as after away games. So what is the explanation?

Maybe players felt a bit flat after the thrill of the Champions League, the most prestigious competition in world football. Or there might not have been any reason - although the contrast in results was large it could have occurred by accident.

The Champions League should not have a big influence on who wins the Premier League, however.

Most seasons all of the challengers for the Premier League also play in the Champions League.

Any post-Champions League hangover will slow them all – though, admittedly, some may suffer with it more often than others because some may progress further in the competition than others.

The influence of the first-leg score on chance of qualifying from a knockout tie

The Champions League last-16 first legs finished on Wednesday.

As you would expect, the better a team did in the first leg, the more likely they are to go through after the second leg.

Some examples. Fourteen per cent of teams qualified after losing a first leg away by three goals, 24 per cent qualified after losing a first leg away by two goals and 49 per cent qualified after losing a first leg away by one goal.

Sixty-seven per cent of teams progressed after playing away in a first leg and drawing. Ninety-four per cent of teams qualified after winning a first leg away by one goal, and all teams qualified after winning a first leg away by two goals or more.

The most finely balanced ties were those like Roma v Porto (which currently stands at 2-1) in which the home team won the first leg by one goal.


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Most people assume results drop more after playing away in Europe, but this is not so
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