Sunday 17 December 2017

How have Premier League clubs been affected by playing Champions League qualifier?

Premier League sides almost always win these matches, but what effect do they have on the way teams have started the season and their final position?

Adnan Januzaj celebrates his goal against Aston Villa
Adnan Januzaj celebrates his goal against Aston Villa
Wayne Rooney of Manchester United

Charlie Eccleshare

The final Champions League qualifier is a curious event.

For most teams, getting this far is what a whole season is aimed towards, it is after all the the reward for finishing fourth, or to give it its full name the 'Arsene Wenger trophy'.

And yet it's also a pair of matches that fills whoever is involved with utter dread, as missing out on the Champions League windfall after getting so close is almost too ghastly to comprehend.

There's also the suggestion that having to play the qualifier disrupts a team's pre-season, often leading to stuttering starts in the league, and makes it harder to sign players who are unsure if they'll be joining a Champions League or Eurpoa League club.

So, ahead of Manchester United's qualifier against Club Brugge tonight, we've taken a look at some of the main assumptions and implications related to playing in a tie worth around £30m.

First of all, United supporters will be relieved to know that English clubs have been utterly dominant in these matches since Newcastle played in the first qualifier of its kind in the 1997/98 season.

Newcastle came through that encounter against Dinamo Zagreb, and in total Premier League clubs have been successful in 23 out of 25 ties.

In the process they have scored 100 goals and conceded 23, at one stage going nine matches without letting in a single goal.

The only two occasions when an English side has failed to make it through the qualifier was Newcastle's penalty shoot-out defeat to Partizan Belgrade in 2003, and Everton's loss to Villarreal two years later.

But what about the effect that having to play in the qualifier has on a team's start to the season?

Looking at the average position of all 25 teams who have played the qualifier since 1997, the average position after 10 games is sixth.

That's not a disaster, but it's a tough position to win the league from, which of course is what United are hoping to do this season.

If United are to win the title in May it would be just the third occasion in which a team has won the Premier League having played in the Champions League qualifier.

Both times it has happened though it was United who pulled it off - in the 1998/99 and 2002/03 seasons.

Overall, the pattern for teams who play the final qualifier is one of stasis, with fourth the average position over the last 18 seasons for those sides forced to take part in the play-off.

That's not of course to say that they have finished in that position simply because of having to play a qualifying tie nine months earlier, but it gives an indication of the difficulty of overcoming an indifferent start to the season.

And in this regard, there appears to be more causality from playing in the Champions League qualifier, as aside from anything else you're often having to play catch-up and awkward midweek games in hand, which immediately puts a team at a bit of a disadvantage.

Moreover, there is the added complication, alluded to earlier, of being in a slightly confused position in the transfer market.

Arsenal have been particularly stung by this in recent years, with the 2011 deadline day dash for the likes of Andre Santos and Park Chu-young partly brought about by uncertainty earlier in the summer as to whether Arsenal could count on Champions League revenue swelling their coffers.

That 2011 qualifier against Udinese has also been cited by Wenger as a reason for the humiliating 8-2 defeat by Manchester United, which came just four days after a draining second leg in Udine.

United of course should have no such worries this season, either in the transfer market or about the immediate emotional effect of what should be a routine win against Brugge.

Whether they can upset recent history and make that quantum leap from fourth place to first will be the much greater challenge. Just ask Arsenal.

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