Premier League injuries – ‘Players can’t deal any more with this overload’

‘Load on players is too much’ – ten Hag on injuries

“Players can’t deal any more with this overload.”

Those are the rather foreboding words of Erik ten Hag as the Manchester United manager grapples with an increasing injury list.

The Dutchman was speaking on the day his defender Lisandro Martinez was ruled out until the end of the year, bringing the total number of United absentees to eight.

But Ten Hag is not the only Premier League manager having to deal with a lengthy casualty list only six weeks into the new season.

According to PremierInjuries.comexternal-link, England’s 20 top-flight sides currently have a combined 112 players out injured.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola thinks players should come together to try to force a change to the schedule.

Newcastle manager Eddie Howe, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino have also had their say on the issue, while Burnley’s Vincent Kompany says he may have come up with a solution.

Chelsea top the injury league

Chelsea currently top the injury table, with Christopher Nkunku and Wesley Fofana out with serious knee injuries, Romeo Lavia sidelined with an ankle problem, and Reece James and Ben Chilwell suffering from hamstring and thigh problems respectively.

Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and Newcastle each have nine players unavailable, including Harvey Barnes, Michael Olise and George Baldock.

Arteta is sweating on the fitness of as many as eight Arsenal first-team players, with Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice picking up injuries in the north London derby, William Saliba and Fabio Vieira suffering setbacks, Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard missing the 2-2 draw with Spurs and Jurrien Timber and Thomas Partey out with long-term injuries.

Champions Manchester City lost playmaker Kevin de Bruyne in their Premier League opener and 10 days ago Guardiola said the club were “in trouble” because of their injury list, which is now easing.

At the other end of the table West Ham are without only Aaron Cresswell through injury, while Wolves have a fully-fit squad.

Chelsea10Sheffield United9Crystal Palace9Newcastle United9Manchester United8Arsenal8Tottenham8Brentford6Burnley6Bournemouth6Luton6Aston Villa5Brighton4Everton4Fulham4Liverpool4Manchester City3Nottingham Forest2West Ham1Wolves0Source: – not including suspensions or disciplinary issues

‘The load on players is too much’

Ten Hag said he deliberately expanded his squad over the summer, bringing in seven players, to mitigate against injuries, but still finds his team stretched, with the recent non-injury absences of Jadon Sancho and Antony compounding matters.

“We had a World Cup in the middle of the season; we had a longer season; we had to play a longer season as well, with FA Cup, then Nations League games. A shorter break,” said Ten Hag.

“Every time the schedule is expanding, the load on the players is too much. It’s such a great overload. Many colleagues of mine have pointed to that and I have pointed to that as well. But it keeps going. We keep expanding the schedule.

“Players can’t deal any more with this overload and that’s what you see in this squad at the moment.”

United returned for pre-season training on 6 July before, like many teams, heading abroad. They played friendlies in Norway, Scotland, the US and Dublin before their Premier League opener against Wolves on 14 August.

The 2022-23 season was longer than normal to accommodate a six-week break for the World Cup in Qatar in November and December, with the campaign starting on 5 August and ending on 28 May.

That meant the FA Cup final and European finals took place in early June, with Nations League fixtures not concluding until 18 June. Less than a month later Premier League clubs were back in pre-season to prepare for 2023-24.

For City, who reached the Champions League final last season and played in the Community Shield this summer, that meant there were only 58 days between the end of last season and this.

New guidance over stoppage time has meant some Premier League matches have lasted beyond 100 minutes

Schedule at ‘dangerous’ level

New guidance around stoppage time brought in at the start of the season has also been criticised by some players for adding to their workload.

Referees have been asked to more accurately reflect stoppages in play when deciding how much time to add on at the end of each half, which has resulted in some matches lasting more than 100 minutes.

United defender Raphael Varane was scathing of the new ruling, saying the schedule is already at a “dangerous level for players’ physical and mental wellbeing”, while De Bruyne said the changes “did not make any sense”.

Newcastle winger Harvey Barnes is out for three months with a foot problem

Is an appearance cap the answer?

Kompany has come up with a potential solution to improve player welfare, suggesting that a limit of 65 games could prevent burnout.

Asked about Kompany’s suggestion, Pochettino said: “It’s difficult to analyse because you need to assess every single situation.

“Maybe players cannot cope with 70 games during the season, but another player can cope. Even the players want to play every game.

“It’s easy when the name is not a top player, but when they say they want to play, how do you say no?”

Guardiola said players should come together to put pressure on world governing body Fifa and European equivalent Uefa.

He said: “There is only one solution to change something: the players decide for themselves – ‘stop, we have to change something’. And after, Fifa and Uefa will maybe react a little bit.

“This business, the show must go on. Without Pep? Keep going. But without the players, the show will not go on, that’s for sure. So it depends on them – they decide if they accept.

“I don’t want to influence, because I’m not going to influence anyone. It has to be the players. If the players want to change something, they are the only ones who can do it.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association agrees.

“It’s time for football to prioritise its most valuable asset – the players,” CEO Maheta Molango told BBC Sport.

“Fixture scheduling should never compromise players’ fitness and wellbeing.

“There’s an increasing awareness that if those responsible for the game fail to take necessary action, it will eventually fall upon the players to say enough is enough.”

He also called for players to have a say in the game’s future, with a reduction in games and ringfenced breaks.

Howe, whose Newcastle side are competing in Europe for the first time since 2013, said: “The load on those players that play every competition and international football goes up, and that’s where we’ve got to be smart sometimes by trying to give them a rest at the appropriate time.

“But that’s very difficult then when they’re your best players and there’s huge expectation on you to get results consistently.”

Arteta said: “Some of them happen in training and some of them are knocks. Coming for before the national team, after the national team, the load went through the roof and the demands continue to be high.”

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