The cost of sidelined talent
As the European football season enters its final stretch, many of us will be reflecting on where it has gone right and wrong for our teams. What changes could we have made, where were we unlucky?
Invariably, injuries become a topic of discussion. Whilst undoubtedly not without a reason, at many levels the occurrence of an injury is also ‘random’ and unprejudiced towards geography or talent. Teams can simply be unlucky if they have more key players out than others.
Clubs are also not in control of the strength of their opponents; in some weeks they might face an opposition without its most valuable players, in others a team at full strength.
In a league with fine margins, these factors can make a difference. The chart below uses data from the Premier League this season to plot the average proportion of squad value injured of one’s own team against the average of the opposition on the day of each game. Using the value of players, rather than a simple count, means that an injury to a more important player has more weight than an injury to a young, fringe player. Everton (EVE), for example, have suffered a number of injuries to valuable individuals throughout the season, but have also encountered opponents with similar issues on many occasions.
In the opposing quadrant, Leicester City (LEI) have had relatively few high-value players sidelined, but have also faced opponents with few costly injuries on average. Fellow relegation strugglers Burnley, Hull and QPR have also encountered an above-average number of games with the opposition at near-full strength, with more costly injuries than Leicester. By no means would this fully explain these clubs’ league position, but may help add context to match results.
Whilst it is impossible to consider and control for all the factors that affect the look of the league table, data can help with your future contingency planning. With a succession plan in place, clubs can be ready to bring younger talent into the first team when, inevitably, injuries occur.