Injuries galore as football's hectic schedule is hurting Premier League players and beyond

This season has seen record injuries to players and the football calendar is only set to expand
Dan Kilpatrick @Dan_KP2 minutes ago

Fans of Chelsea, Tottenham, Brentford, Newcastle, Manchester United and even Arsenal have surely cursed their club's luck with injuries since the start of the season. Across the Premier League and Europe, the length of injury lists is unprecedented.

Spurs, for example, were without 10 first-team squad players for Sunday's draw at Manchester City, while Newcastle were 11 down for their win over United. The two clubs meet in north London at the weekend in a fixture which is likely to be as notable for the absentees as those on the pitch.

There has been a 9.5 per cent increase in the number of injuries in the top flight in 2023-24 compared to the same point last term, while across Europe's 'big five' leagues the figure is up 8.7 per cent, according to data from sports intelligence agency Twenty First Group.

Separate statistics, compiled by Premier Injuries, shows the total number of injuries in the top flight at this point in the campaign has risen around 15 per cent on the previous four-year average.

James Maddison was arguably the player of the season before being injured against Chelsea last month
Getty Images

Together, the figures are striking enough to suggest this is no anomaly and that football's relentless schedule might finally be catching up with players.

Last season's winter World Cup, which had a concertina effect on the domestic season, felt unique in nature, but there is little let-up for elite players ahead.

In January, the Asian Cup and Africa Cup of Nations take place, while next summer the Copa America will run in tandem with the European Championship.

Arsenal Men's First Team Squad 2023/24
Jurrien Timber is out for nine months after cruelly hobbling off on his Arsenal debut
Arsenal FC via Getty Images

From next season, the Champions League and Club World Cup will expand, while the Nations League means there are now more competitive internationals. Leading clubs, meanwhile, give increasing weight to lucrative pre- and even post-season tours to far-flung corners of the globe.

As the calendar has expanded, there have been repeated pleas to consider the strain on players.

In June, FIFPRO, the global players' union, warned that this season's schedule posed a "pressing danger" to players' physical and mental wellbeing, while Arsenal's Mikel Arteta is among the managers to have raised concerns since the start of the campaign.

Christopher Nkunku is still yet to make his Chelsea debut after suffering an injury during pre-season
Getty Images

"It's too much for the players, it's incredibly demanding. When you see the next 36 months of the calendar for those players, it's just better not to look at it, because it's incredible what they are going to have to be doing," the Spaniard said in August, following the loss of new signing Jurrien Timber to an ACL injury, one of a spate of players across Europe to suffer the same issue.

Supporting the view that strain on players is at least partly to blame for the rise in those in the treatment room, TwentyFirst Group data shows muscular injuries — often caused by fatigue or over-exertion — have increased by 14 per cent this season across the 'big five' leagues compared to the same point last term. Premier Injuries data shows that hamstring injuries, in particular, are up 55 per cent in the Premier League compared to the previous four-year average.

There are potentially other factors, too, including the extension of stoppage-time in the top flight, which has led to the ball being in play for three minutes and 15 seconds longer on average than last term, potentially leading to more fatigue and muscular injuries.

The big setbacks

£88m spent by Premier League sides paying the wages of injured players this season.

9.5% increase in top-flight injuries compared with same point last term

8.7% increase in injuries in the big five leagues compared with the same point last season

14% increase in muscular injuries in the big five leagues compared with the same point last season

3min15sec longer, on average, the ball is in play during Premier League matches this season

Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou has even suggested that lengthy delays for VAR checks, which leave players static, may be contributing to muscle injuries.

The increased pace and intensity of the Premier League, with managers like Postecoglou and Arteta employing defensive high lines necessitating lots of sprints, is surely a factor, too.

The sheer volume of top-level matches appears the likeliest factor, however, amid the sense that elite football is starting to pay the price from a wildly-disrupted series of campaigns, which included the reworked calendar during the pandemic, followed by the mid-season Qatar World Cup.

Decision-makers may soon face a reckoning, though Arteta, for one, has said it is already "too late" to impact the next 36 months of the calendar.

The hope from many is that consideration will be given to the strain on players thereafter.