Premier League title race: Data shows Liverpool had toughest international break

Scotland's Andy Robertson reacts after being substituted due to an injury

Pep Guardiola, Mikel Arteta and Jürgen Klopp must have been hiding behind their sofas during the international break rather than watching their players on duty for their countries.

Over the next days, those players will return to their clubs and have their fitness assessed before the focus switches back to the Premier League title race.

Guardiola saw two of his players, Kyle Walker and John Stones, pick up injuries on England duty but it was Liverpool’s squad who did most work during the break from domestic football.

Klopp’s players on international duty played an average of 120 minutes over their two matches, which included Konstantinos Tsimikas being taken to extra-time in Greece’s defeat by Georgia in the Euro play-off eliminator.

Dominik Szoboszlai and Virgil van Dijk both played two full matches, while Andy Robertson was injured playing for Scotland with an apparent ankle complaint. Liverpool face Brighton at home on Sunday and also had Joe Gomez come off the bench twice for England to play 103 minutes.

He came on against Brazil and Belgium after the injuries to Walker and Stones which have left Guardiola sweating on their fitness for Sunday’s title showdown against Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium. Matheus Nunes also has a knock.

City’s players featured for an average of 109 minutes over the two international games and had more players in action too. Southgate insisted there was no risk playing Stones for a second game in four days, with other City players such as Erling Haaland and Nathan Ake also playing twice.

Arsenal’s players on duty played an average of 118 minutes and they saw Bukayo Saka return home without kicking a ball as an injury precaution. Jakob Kiwior played 210 minutes after Poland were taken to penalties by Wales to qualify for the Euros.

Southgate, speaking at Wembley after the draw with Belgium, insisted that players’ data were analysed before decisions were made on their workload, and that Stones was coming back from a spell on the sidelines so being overworked was not an issue. At the end of the international break, Walker had a hamstring problem and Stones’ adductor will have to be assessed.

“We measure everything and the first game for him wasn’t a game that was a high level in terms of the intensity,” Southgate said. “We have done exactly what Holland did with Virgil van Dijk tonight. What Norway did with Erling Haaland and [Martin] Odegaard starting them again. Holland also started [Nathan] Ake again.

“So it only ever seems to fall on us when there is a question around that. Of course we are disappointed if he’s got a problem. John also came in on the back of not having played for two weeks so it is not an overload situation. But I hate sending players back to their clubs if they are not fully fit.”

Robertson’s injury while playing for Scotland against Northern Ireland is potentially significant given his importance to Liverpool at left-back. Robertson suffered an ankle injury after his team-mate, Conor Bradley, had scored the winner in Glasgow.

Nathan Ake playing for Netherlands against Germany
City's Nathan Ake, right, also started both games in international week - Rico Brouwer/Soccrates/Getty Images

“I’m disappointed,” said Bradley. “I didn’t have the chance to speak to him but I was right behind it and it did look nasty, I think he rolled his ankle maybe or something like that. It was a nasty one but hopefully nothing serious.

“I’ll give him a text and see how he’s getting on. I’ll wish him the best and probably be back in on Thursday so I’ll see him then. He’s massive for us, one of the best left-backs in the Premier League for the last 10 years and he’s been such a big help to me in my career. I’ve learned so much off him.”

Being overworked has been an issue this season, particularly with matches running into 10 minutes of stoppage-time, which effectively means playing extra games over the course of a campaign. Raphaël Varane at Manchester United was a strong voice in saying football needs to care for its players more.

“From the managers and players, we have shared our concerns for many years now that there are too many games, the schedule is overcrowded, and it’s at a dangerous level for players physical and mental well-being,” Varane said.

“Despite our previous feedback, they have now recommended for next season: longer games, more intensity, and less emotions to be shown by players. We just want to be in good condition on the pitch to give 100 per cent to our club and fans. Why are our opinions not being heard?”

The Professional Footballers’ Association has also spoken out over workload, chief executive Maheta Molango noting that City’s Champions League triumph was their 61st match of last season and a showcase in which Kevin De Bruyne was forced off early.

“It is surely not what we want to see. The Champions League final is supposed to be our Super Bowl,” he said. “It wasn’t because one of the best players in the world, De Bruyne, was out in the 30th minute. [Erling] Haaland was exhausted; Rodri, who is a top athlete, said after 60 minutes he had cramps. For us, we’ve reached a stage where it is not just about the health of the player, it is about us killing the product.”

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