The World Cup may be nearly over but its effect on Chelsea hasn’t even begun. As the players begin to return for pre-season training, there are fears that the pressure of playing in the tournament may affect the Blues more than any of their Premier League rivals.
Statistics experts have calculated that Chelsea players chalked up more minutes on the field than those from any other English club. With just the final (and the meaningless third-place play-off match) to go, Chelsea’s 16 squad members had accumulated a total of 3,796 minutes of football. In comparison, Arsenal’s players had managed 2,532. Manchester United’s current crop had played for 2,605 – though that total will rise as they make more summer signings. Manchester City’s squad racked up 2,949 (and will add substantially to that on Sunday with four players in Argentina’s squad). Liverpool’s 12 World Cup stars managed a paltry 1,721 – and 180 of those were down to Luis Suarez, who’s off to Barcelona.
Should Chelsea be worried about suffering from World Cup burn-out? The club have already allowed for the possibility by shelving plans for the sort of long-haul pre-season tour that they have endured in previous years.
Instead of a trip to the Far East or the USA to boost merchandise sales in those lucrative markets, Chelsea will be heading for a training camp in Austria where they will play a series of friendlies. They then entertain Real Sociedad at Stamford Bridge and that’s it until the season starts.
Players involved only in the group stages of the World Cup will return to training on the 21st of this month – but others who progressed further in the competition, the Belgian and Brazilian contingents for example – will be given extra rest.
But despite the headline figures on the amount of playing time accumulated by Chelsea’s players, the actual effect on the squad may be somewhat smaller than it seems. Of the 16 who contributed to the total, Christian Atsu and Kenneth Omeruo are likely to be sent back out on loan this year, and Jon Obi Mikel and Victor Moses are likely to be sold.
That’s 1,160 minutes knocked off the total right there – the equivalent of about 13 matches. This brings the aggregate down to a much more manageable 2,636 pretty much in line with our main rivals.
Then there’s Romelu Lukaku to take into account. At the moment, it looks like he’s staying at Stamford Bridge. But if he leaves, that’s another 180 minutes of World Cup playing time to discount – suddenly we’re looking pretty well-rested compared to the top of the Premier League.
And some minutes are more strenuous than others. Andre Schurrle’s 45 minutes during Germany’s stroll in the park against Brazil can’t have caused him much physical pain. Torres and Fabregas didn’t get much of a chance to put in a shift for Spain. Although Gary Cahill’s 270 minutes for England saw him put in plenty of work, covering for Phil Jagielka’s mistakes and trying to run back after Steven Gerrard’s back-headers to opposition strikers.
All in all, however, Chelsea may not be quite as exhausted by the World Cup as early indications might suggest. That is, unless the club buys up a large handful of German and Argentine players between now and the end of the transfer window. That would send the calculations completely awry.