With the Premier League title race just past the half-way point, many observers are suggesting that this year’s league campaign has been the best in decades. Much of this can be put down to the poor form of Manchester United, who to their credit, often turned the title race into a procession by early spring.
This year Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool are all in the race for the title. While the first three were obvious contenders at the outset, Liverpool’s performances have surprised many people. Jose Mourinho has suggested Liverpool’s “holiday” from Europe has given them an advantage in the title race and even Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson has claimed the Reds are benefitting from the absence of mid-week football.
Players and managers rarely complain about playing in the Champions League on a Wednesday night and league on a Saturday, yet Europa League action on a Thursday and league games on a Sunday are consider ‘too close’ together.
Is the Europa League harder to handle than the Champions League? Surely not. Yet a break of two and half days is generally ok for one competition but not the other.
I decided to see if the exertions of playing in Europe on a Thursday could be more exhausting than that of a Wednesday. The best way to check is to consider the three London clubs still in Europe (Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham) and see how far they potentially have to travel to play in Europe.
The average distance from London to a Champions League group stage venue is 1,466km. This compares favourably to an average of 1,948km in the Europa League. That’s a round trip of almost an extra 1,000km on average for Thursday night football.
Arsenal and Chelsea’s longest potential trip this season was 3,197km (Olympiacos). Spurs on the other had eight destinations further afield and, unluckily for them, actually visited two of them! Tromsø (3,462km from London) and, the furthest destination of all, Anzhi Makhachkala (4,284km). Fortunately for Spurs, the Anzhi game was played in the Saturn Stadium near Moscow (3,000km approx).
So maybe the Europa League is harder to compete in than the Champions League. If so, Liverpool could be benefitting from a strange twist of luck; when finishing 7th is ‘better’ than 5th. Talk about perverse incentives…