Friday, August 13, 2010

3 Things To Watch For As EPL Starts This Weekend

1. The World Cup Fatigue Factor
Watch for players on teams who played in the World Cup, especially on teams who made a deep run. In most cases these players were given extra time off before reporting to training camp with their clubs, and as such they are both not quite back to being ready for their team and trying to work through and shake off the physical & mental fatigue from the World Cup. For some players, they will not have had more than a month off since June 2009, and it typically manifests itself in two ways: First, such players are brought back into the club fold slowly and/or they start the season slowly. Second, such players often hit a wall towards the end of the season as the long haul fatigue sets in; kind of a long term bonk from playing virtually non-stop over a 22 month span, especially for players who play on teams that make deep runs in multiple competitions (league & cups).

Don't be surprised if, say, Arjen Robben has a less monsterous year than last: playing in and winning both German league and Cup, and losing in Champions League final and World Cup final, he is an example of a player who may yield to fatigue early and/or late in the season.

Two of Arsenal's best players seem to fit in the category, but Arsenal are lucky that upon further review they do and they don't: Robin Van Persie was out injured for several months last year, and Cesc Fabregas was injured for 2 months as well, and on top of that his World Cup playing time was extremely limited. These guys, once they get back into camp and get fully ramped up, should have a better chance of fighting off  the long term fatigue than some others.

2. Players Who Missed World Cup And Are Both Fresh And Motivated
The opposite of fatigued, overused players are those who are well rested because they missed the World Cup, and are also pissed that they missed the World Cup and are super motivated and chomping at the bit to get back out on the field and do their thing. Russian captain Andrei Arshavin may be the best player in the world who did not make the World Cup; he is rested, motivated, more than a bit crazy, and definitely a player whose performances vary based on effort & desire- don't be surprised if he has a big season after a quiet one last year.

Hoping for more performances like this from the "little Russian genius" in 2010-11, starting with this Sunday at Anfield
Same thing for the likes of Michael Essien (returning from injury), Michael Ballack (ditto), Samir Nasri (who has been a beast in Arsenal pre-season games), Theo Walcott, Esteban Cambiasso, Alexandre Pato, and Karim Benzema just to name a few.

3. Don't Get Too Excited Early On
The beginning of the season is always stop/start with the interruption of the fall international matches- 3 games then a break, 4 games then a break, etc, etc. Also, many years teams start out the season in unexpected fashion, most often a promoted team or perennial bottom dweller getting off to a hot start and being in the top 5 of the table. But don't get too excited and start talking trash or believing that they can carry their early form through the full 38 game season. The underdog overachievers typically fall back to earth for 2 reasons: lack of squad depth/quality vis a vis the bigger better teams which over the long haul triggers a regression to the mean, and in the case of promoted teams, it taking a while for the other teams to learn their new opponent and then how to beat that opponent (think of a pitcher who gets called up to MLB and does great the first time he faces teams, but then struggles the 2nd, 3rd, 4th time he plays teams as scouting and adjustments kick in). Less frequent but still applicable is the opposite- when a big club struggles and find themselves firmly in the bottom half of the table after a handful of games. In both cases, usually by the second half of the season they have worked their way back to where most expected they would be, with the big boys back at the top and the heart warming minnows fighting to avoid relegation.

A good measure is not to get too excited or make too many conclusions about teams until 10 league games have been played. Then start talking trash or thinking 'uh, oh' this could really be an outlier/anomaly year (Liverpool 2009-2010). Until 10 games have been played don't believe the "What's Wrong With ManU?" or "Blackpool Will Challenge For A Place In Europe!!!" stories in mid-September.

Here is the TV schedule for this weekend's games. Enjoy.
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