Does Playing In Europe Affect A Football Teams League Performance?
It’s a long-held statement from pundits and commentators that doing well in Europe can affect a team’s league form. Obviously the further you go in the biggest competitions the more games you’ll have to play, with that added number of matches leading to an increased risk of injury and players becoming fatigued. That can then bleed into league performances and make a difference to a team’s ability to do as well domestically as they do in Europe. Or does it?
When things are stated regularly by commentators, the press and people who are paid to talk about football it can quickly become ‘true’ regardless of the statistical facts at play. You can then allow these things to permeate your thoughts before placing a bet and be influenced by something that might not actually be a factor. In order to look at the truth behind the issue we’ll have a look at the runs of the two teams that reached the final of the Champions League in 2017-2018.
Champions League Run 2017-2018 - Real Madrid
In the 2017-2018 season Spanish side Real Madrid reached their third successive Champions League final under manager Zinedine Zidane. It was also the club’s third Champions League final in four years, having beaten neighbours Atlético Madrid in 2014. The same opposition were beaten in the final in 2016, whilst it was Italian side Juventus that they got the better of in 2017.
The 2018 final was played between the Spanish side and English team Liverpool, who were playing in the final for the first time since 2007. Real matched their Champions League final appearance with winning the Supercopa de España and making it to the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey and finishing third in Spain’s La Liga. Here’s how their league campaign went either side of one of the Champions League fixtures:
- 9th September: Real Madrid 1-1 Levante (Draw)
- 13th September: Champions League Real Madrid 3-0 APOEL (Win)
- 17th September: Real Sociedad 1-3 Real Madrid (Win)
- 23rd September: Alavés 1-2 Real Madrid (Win)
- 26th September: Champions League Borussia Dortmund 1-3 Real Madrid (Win)
- 1st October: Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol (Win)
- 14th October: Getafe 1-2 Real Madrid (Win)
- 17th October: Champions League Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur (Draw)
- 22nd October: Real Madrid 3-0 Eibar (Win)
- 29th October: Girona 2-1 Real Madrid (Loss)
- 1st November: Champions League Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Real Madrid (Loss)
- 5th November: Real Madrid 3-0 Las Palmas (Win)
- 18th November: Atlético Madrid 0-0 Real Madrid (Draw)
- 21st November: Champions League APOEL 0-6 Real Madrid (Win)
- 25th November: Real Madrid 3-2 Málaga (Win)
- 2nd December: Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Real Madrid (Draw)
- 6th December: Champions League Real Madrid 3-2 Borussia Dortmund (Win)
- 9th December: Real Madrid 5-0 Sevilla (Win)
- 10th February: Real Madrid 5-2 Real Sociedad (Win)
- 14th February: Champions League Real Madrid 3-1 Paris Saint-Germain (Win)
- 18th February: Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid (Win)
- 3rd March: Real Madrid 3-1 Getafe (Win)
- 6th March: Champions League Paris Saint-Germain 1-2 Real Madrid (Win)
- 10th March: Eibar 1-2 Real Madrid (Win)
- 31st March: Las Palmas 0-3 Real Madrid (Win)
- 3rd April: Champions League Juventus 0-3 Real Madrid (Win)
- 8th April: Real Madrid 1-1 Atlético Madrid (Draw)
- 11th April: Champions League Real Madrid 1-3 Juventus (Loss)
- 15th April: Málaga 1-2 Real Madrid (Win)
- 18th April: Real Madrid 1-1 Athletic Bilbao (Draw)
- 25th April: Champions League Bayern Munich 1-2 Real Madrid (Win)
- 28th April: Real Madrid 2-1 Leganés (Win)
- 1st May: Champions League Real Madrid 2-2 Bayern Munich (Draw)
- 6th May: Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid (Draw)
- 19th May: Villarreal 2-2 Real Madrid (Draw)
- 26th May: Champions League Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool (Win)
Across 13 Champions League fixtures, then, Real Madrid suffered 5 draws and 1 loss before the games in Europe and 2 draws after. They also won 14 games either side of the matches. Obviously the closeness of the fixtures once the Champions League reached the knockout stages means that there are a couple of overlaps in there.
Champions League Run 2017-2018 - Liverpool
Whilst the Merseyside club hadn’t done as well in the Champions League as Real Madrid over the preceding years, they had done OK in Europe in general thanks to their ability to reach the Europa League final in the 2015-2016 campaign. Their run in Europe’s elite competition in 2017-2018 was considered to be extremely fortuitous, however.
Here’s a look at how they did in the domestic league as they went on their improbable run to that year’s Champions League final in Kiev:
- 12th August: Watford 3-3 Liverpool (Draw)
- 15th August: Champions League Hoffenheim 1-2 Liverpool (Win)
- 19th August: Liverpool 1-0 Crystal Palace (Win)
- 23rd August: Champions League Liverpool 4-2 Hoffenheim (Win)
- 27th August: Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal (Win)
- 9th September: Manchester City 5-0 Liverpool (Loss)
- 13th September: Champions League Liverpool 2-2 Sevilla (Draw)
- 16th September: Liverpool 1-1 Burnley (Draw)
- 23rd September: Leicester City 2-3 Liverpool (Win)
- 26th September: Champions League Spartak Moscow 1-1 Liverpool (Draw)
- 1st October: Newcastle United 1-1 Liverpool (Draw)
- 14th October: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United (Draw)
- 17th October: Champions League Maribor 0-7 Liverpool (Win)
- 22nd October: Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 Liverpool (Loss)
- 28th October: Liverpool 3-0 Huddersfield Town (Win)
- 1st November: Champions League Liverpool 3-0 Maribor (Win)
- 4th November: West Ham United 1-4 Liverpool (Win)
- 18th November: Liverpool 3-0 Southampton (Win)
- 21st November: Champions League Sevilla 3-3 Liverpool (Draw)
- 25th November: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea (Draw)
- 2nd December: Brighton & Hove Albion 1-5 Liverpool (Win)
- 6th December: Champions League Liverpool 7-0 Spartak Moscow (Win)
- 10th December: Liverpool 1-1 Everton (Draw)
- 11th February: Southampton 0-2 Liverpool (Win)
- 14th February: Champions League Porto 0-5 Liverpool (Win)
- 24th February: Liverpool 4-1 West Ham United (Win)
- 3rd March: Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle United (Win)
- 6th March: Champions League Liverpool 0-0 Porto (Draw)
- 10th March: Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool (Loss)
- 31st March: Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool (Win)
- 4th April: Champions League Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City (Win)
- 7th April: Everton 0-0 Liverpool (Draw)
- 10th April: Champions League Manchester City 1-2 Liverpool (Win)
- 14th April: Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth (Win)
- 21st April: West Brom 2-2 Liverpool (Draw)
- 24th April: Champions League Liverpool 5-2 Roma (Win)
- 28th April: Liverpool 0-0 Stoke City (Draw)
- 2nd May: Champions League Roma 4-2 Liverpool (Loss)
- 6th May: Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool (Loss)
- 13th May: Liverpool 4-0 Brighton & Hove Albion (Win)
- 26th May: Champions League Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool (Loss)
Information taken from Liverpool’s official website.
Because Liverpool had to play qualifying matches, they were involved in 15 Champions League ties. They drew 5 of the preceding Premier League matches, losing 1 of them, which matches Real Madrid’s record exactly. They also drew six matches after a Champions League game, with some crossover to the before matches because of when they fixtures came.
They lost 3 games after Champions League fixtures, drawing 6 times with more crossover. Liverpool won 13 of the games that came either side of a game in Europe, which was just one fewer than Real Madrid managed.
Do Teams Do Worse After Playing In Europe?
Before we try to figure out what all of that means, it’s worth having a look at the previous seasons from the two teams in which they didn’t reach the Champions League final. For Liverpool it’s much easier, given that the side didn’t play in Europe at all during the 2016-2017 campaign. Here’s how their league form was for the two seasons:
|Season||Games Won||Games Lost||Games Drawn|
It’s tricker for Real Madrid, of course, given that the team had won the previous two Champions League finals and hadn’t failed to qualify for the competition for years. As a result we’ll have a look at the last season in which they didn’t make the competition’s final, which was in 2014-2015:
|Season||Games Won||Games Lost||Games Drawn|
Obviously that’s an imperfect set of results because they did make the semi-final of the Champions League in 2014-2015, but it does give you some idea of the added pressure of making it to the final of the competition.
In both instances the two teams won fewer games and drew more on their way to the final. They also failed to win their domestic leagues, but it’s worth noting that they didn’t win it in the season when they didn’t reach the final either.
Is it progress in Europe that necessarily means that a team doesn’t do well in their domestic tournament? The fact that Real Madrid won a league and cup double in 2016-2017 would dispute that fact, as does Liverpool winning the Champions League and notching up 97 points in 2018-2019, which would have been enough for a league and cup double in every other Premier League season bar one.
It’s possible that the distraction of Europe is why the teams didn’t do as well domestically, but there are also countless other variables that you should consider before placing a bet. Have their been any injuries in the squad, for example? Are other teams in the domestic league stronger than they’ve been in the past?
Obviously this is just a passing look at one season rather than an in-depth look at countless different seasons using a number of different teams, but that’s because this season gives us a nice idea of how things have been for two teams from different countries.
The short answer is that European performance doesn’t detract from a team’s domestic form in a huge way, sometimes giving them confidence for both competitions. If a team is doing well domestically then there’s an increased chance that they’ll also do well in Europe.
The key is to look at who the team you’re going to bet on is playing in both competitions and bear in mind the strength of those teams as well as the ability of your chosen team to rotate their squad.