The concept of the ‘European hangover’ is a modern phenomenon that seems to decorate tabloid newspapers every other week. It’s the default expression used to justify why the domestic performance of a top six club has suffered after a recent gruelling night across the continent. However, despite establishing itself as a contemporary cliché, is there any evidence for its existence this season?
On last weekend’s edition of Sunday Supplement, Henry Winter made an interesting remark about the unique mentality needed to succeed in Europe. Managers can rarely enforce the same tactics employed in the Premier League, especially when up against the technically superior European powerhouses. Therefore, they must resort to a physically more demanding pressing strategy, in the hope of hitting teams on the counter attack.
The unfamiliar playing style, coupled with the intimidating environments and the increased pressure – especially in the Champions League – mean matches in Europe push physical and mental demands to an unprecedented level. It’s very easy to criticise players for not being ‘capable of playing two games in a week’, but in reality these European excursions are as taxing as they are rewarding.
Winter proceeded to explain that it takes a number of years to develop such an intrinsic mindset, which is perhaps why Manchester United, as the countries most experienced and successful side in Europe in recent years, are the only team to have won every league game after a midweek fixture in the Champions League this season.
Neither Arsenal or Manchester City have gone on to lose after a night out in Europe, with Chelsea’s only defeat coming at the hands of United. However, there are signs that clubs are beginning to suffer as we enter the notoriously difficult winter period.
In the latest batch of Champions League fixtures Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea all endured surprising defeats and while the Blues were controversially beaten by United on Sunday, both Arsenal and City struggled to secure 1-0 wins over QPR and Swansea respectively. A sign then that the Champions League campaign is beginning to make the typically ‘routine’ victories much more difficult.
It’s slightly harder to judge the effects of the Europa League on English clubs; especially considering the supposedly inferior level of competition and the fact managers will often rest their first-team regulars. However, the Thursday-Sunday schedule is hardly ideal and serves only to throw teams out of their natural sync.
Tottenham Hotspur may have won every single post Europa League fixture but their level of commitment in the tournament has to be questioned, bearing in mind their failure to pick up a victory so far. Newcastle, a team expected to struggle thanks to their inclusion this year, have won two of three resulting games, with their only defeat coming against – you guessed it – Manchester United. Liverpool on the hand have failed to pick up a single victory after a Thursday night fixture but this is perhaps down to the fact they’ve played the formidable trio of Stoke, Manchester United and Everton.
With the next set of European fixtures on the horizon we could well see the ‘European hangover’ tag claim a few more victims. In usual circumstances you would expect Arsenal and Manchester United to secure all three points against Fulham and Aston Villa, but both sides will go into their respective games after tough away trips to Germany and Portugal.
Chelsea and Manchester City on the other hand both find themselves on home soil in Europe but face distinctly more challenging opponents the following Sunday in the form of Tottenham and Liverpool. The pressure will be on for these clubs to maintain their impressive domestic form, but as both Manchester clubs proved last season, crashing out of Europe could be the perfect catalyst for a title-winning charge.
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