Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is interviewed by BT Sports Des Kelly before the UEFA Champions League Group D match at Anfield, Liverpool.

Inside Edge: Is the Champions League taking its toll on domestic football?

With the UEFA Champions League now well underway, Nick Haynes from Form Labs takes a look at whether the condensed fixture list is having an effect on the performance of top flight English football teams.

The norm throughout a league season is that there tends to be increasing disparity between the top and bottom of the table as the campaign wears on, though the lack of fans, and therefore a slightly more nullified home advantage has meant this season’s Premier League remains incredibly hard-fought even with over a quarter gone.

Indeed, just eight points separate first and 15th in England’s top flight, and although the lack of fans will have some part to play in that, it became evident over the weekend what one manager thought was the main reason for his side’s hindered progression.

In Jurgen Klopp’s bizarre confrontation with BT Sport’s Des Kelly after his side conceded a late penalty to draw with Brighton, the German manager blamed the quantity of substitutions he was allowed to make, while putting the onus on the broadcasters to change the schedule.

The condensed fixture list has affected the entire footballing world this year, though those sides competing in Europe’s elite competitions have been playing both midweek and weekends every single week since the campaign recommenced.

While the debate of scheduling has always been circulating, it seems to be applicable now more than ever with games coming thicker and faster, and we’ve had a look at how European games have impacted domestic form prior to this season, and if Klopp is right and results have tailed off this season in relation. 

Prior to fans not being allowed in stadiums back in March, we’ve taken league matches from European competing sides in the top four leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A) whose next Champions League game was no more than five days away dating back to the 1999/00 season, which gives a sample of 2,686 matches for Europe’s elite tier competition.

Table 1: A Table of Champions League competing sides’ domestic results from Europe’s Big Four Leagues in their league matches that were no more than five days away from a European fixture since 1999/00.

While sportsbooks have tended to cover all bases as per the table above, when taking each league on their own merit and limiting the sample to just away league fixtures over the last 10 years, there is a trend.

Table 2: A Table of Champions League competing sides’ domestic results from each of the separate Big Four Leagues in their away league matches that were no more than five days away from a European fixture since 2010/11.

There may be some truth to Klopp’s argument, with European competing Premier League clubs seeing a 17.6% profit at their expense when travelling domestically before a Champions League match, and it’s a pretty similar story in the Bundesliga. Travelling prior to a European clash evidently is the biggest challenge these sides face, though this season tells a different story.

Albeit from a small sample of matches thus far, only two of the 16 sides from the top four leagues have failed to win an away match prior to a group stage game this season. It’s no surprise that one of those sides is Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who have drawn both such matches, while Barcelona have gone D1-L2 from their three.

Only 22.9% of those 35 matches have ended in defeat so far, with a marginal profit of 1.46% when backing that outcome, suggesting there’s little ground for complaint about the fixture schedule this season. However, that will undoubtedly revert back to the norm as more matches get played and fans slowly but surely get reintroduced to stadiums.

Spurs vs Arsenal: Pressure mounting on Mikel Arteta?

Tottenham (17/16) have lost just once since early July (W10-D5-L1) and up against top sides Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd, Leicester and Arsenal, they’ve won four of five unbeaten games. A goalless stalemate last time out with the Blues felt reminiscent of past Jose Mourinho sides, but they actually scored at least twice in each of those four victories in big games, though they’ll be happy just to get the job done and maintain their title challenge.

Mikel Arteta appeared to be making progress with Arsenal (31/10) as they won the FA Cup and added the Community Shield. However, after losing just five of his first 22 league games, things have gone pear shaped recently and they’re just W2-D1-L5 since late September, with even one of those victories coming by a single-goal margin over rock-bottom Sheffield Utd at the Emirates.

Scoring goals has become a problem and the Gunners have registered just two across their past six outings now. Star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has gone off the boil and since an opening day strike at Fulham, he’s managed just the solitary effort in nine subsequent matches. Pepe is still suspended, Alexandre Lacazette and Willian have failed to deliver the goods, while Mesut Ozil didn’t even make the squad. Alarmingly, the three sides in the relegation zone are the only teams with worse offensive records this term.

Tottenham’s defence is by no means perfect but it has conceded just once in five matches, while the clean sheets against Man City and Chelsea in the last two are particularly encouraging. That’s especially the case with Toby Alderweireld going off injured in the first of those games, but although this game should come too soon for him replacement Joe Rodon has performed well.

The potential absence of Harry Kane is of greater concern, though the England captain is expected to be fit for this clash, as are left-back Sergio Reguilon and back-up striker Carlos Vinicius. However, Arsenal are still without midfielder Thomas Partey, who is yet to return to full training, and the current outright price around the league leaders looks too good to pass up on. 

NFL: Cleveland Browns looking to end 18-year playoff drought

Without a doubt one of the highlights of the weekend sees the Titans (+215) host the Browns (-260), with both teams holding identical 8-3 records heading into Week 13. As a result, for the first time this decade, Cleveland will avoid a losing season altogether, while they’ll be desperate to put an end to the franchise’s 18-year playoff drought. 

However, the Browns have been one of the worst teams at covering the spread on the road over the last two seasons, falling to do so in 10 of their last 11, including each of the last three, and up against a rushing attack lead by Derrick Henry, we’d be surprised if that changed.

The Titans’ running back made 178-yards and three touchdowns last week in their titanic victory over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, taking his total to a league-leading 1,257 yards this season. That has led to 12 touchdowns for him so far this season, and if the Browns are going to take anything from this one, they’ll have to contain him.  

That recent Tennessee win was a serious statement on the rest of the American Football Conference, as they now sit top of the AFC South. When their rushing attack makes at least their season average this campaign, they have a 3-1 record against the spread, and off the back of that, the -6-point spread certainly looks worth considering. 

Stats of the Day

Wolves have gone just W1-D2-L5 in their eight matches across all competitions without Raul Jimenez starting since March 2019, failing to score in half. 

Form Labs delivers bespoke editorial covering a variety of sports to a number of sportsbooks. Click here for more information or contact Nick Haynes on [email protected].

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