Will Champions League Football Harm Leicester City’s Premier League Performances?

The remarkable achievement of last season’s Premier League champions has been well documented by football fans across the globe. As reward for their excellent campaign, Leicester City – making their debut in the competition – will head straight into Pot 1 for the Champions League Group stage. People have already begun wandering how far can Leicester go in the Champions League, and considerations also need to be made as to how Champions League participation will affect their Premier League campaign for the 2016/2017 season. Leicester City midfielder Danny Drinkwater believes winning the Premier League can spur them onto new heights, stating that they’re not one season wonders and can retain their place among the Premier League’s elite. Claudio Ranieri on the other hand, has taken a more conservative approach and is hopeful of a top 10 finish this time around.

The purpose of this analysis is to study the performance of debuting teams in the modern era in Europe’s elite competition, specifically those teams that are not necessarily used to the rigours at this level. We will then look to compare the debuting teams’ results in the season that earned them qualification to the season during their Champions League campaign; this will allow us to see what effect playing in the UCL had on their league performance that season. When we refer to debuts, this means debuts in the competition since it moved from the European Champions Club Cup. We shall be looking at debuting teams since it moved to a Group Stage format in 2003/04. For Champions League participation, this refers to Group Stage onwards and discounts the qualifying rounds.

First up, we will take a look at all the debuting teams in the competition from the 2003/04 season onwards.

A total of 46 clubs have made their debuts in the Champions League Group stage from the 2003/04 season onwards. Our next step will be to look at the averages of these teams in the domestic season they reached the Champions League and then the following season while they were playing in the Champions League. We shall look at wins, draws, losses, goals scored, goals conceded, points and position.

It is clear to see that the debuting clubs qualifying for the Champions League Group stage struggle to maintain their high standards in their domestic league during the season of their Champions League campaign. In the season during the UCL campaign on average they win less matches in the league, draw more often, lose more often, score fewer goals and concede more goals too; fair to say that it has a negative impact on performance and of most importance, results on the pitch. This means that on average debuting teams have been 11.2 points worse off in the season during the UCL campaign, which translates to their average finishing positon lowering by 2.9 places from 1.696 to 4.565.

In the modern era, the debuting team that struggled the most with coping with the challenge of playing in the Champions League was FC Zurich during the 2009/10 season; they were 34 points worse off than the season that earned them Champions League qualification, and they went from winning the league to finishing a lowly seventh in a 10 team league.

There can be similar comparisons drawn between the Montpellier season of 2011/12 and the Leicester City campaign last year, with both proving to be surprise champions in their domestic leagues; so how did the French side cope domestically the year after they won the league whilst competing in the Champions League? Unfortunately, they were not able to sustain their spell at the top as they were 30 points worse off and finished in ninth place in the League. In a quirk in the footballing world, Arsene Wenger seems to love a striker from a team that surprisingly wins the league; the Frenchman bought Olivier Giroud from Montpellier the season after he impressed for Montpellier in their title winning season, and tried this time around to bring Jamie Vardy to The Emirates. Leicester City fans will be hopeful that their strikers’ decision not to follow in the footsteps of Giroud leads to different fortunes for their club than that of Montpellier. Interestingly, 37 out of the 46 clubs had a worse points total the season after qualifying for the Champions League, with only nine clubs able to cope and improve on their points total.

So how have the debuting teams performed in the Group stage of the Champions League?

On average, debuting teams will lose nearly half of their matches, score close to a goal per game whilst conceding around 10 in their six games. These teams will on average compete for third place in the group with an average of 5.74 points.

37 of the 46 debuting teams have failed to get beyond the Group stage in the Champions League; however, nine debuting teams have progressed further, with six reaching the Round of 16, two to the quarter-finals and one side (Villareal CF in the 2005/06 season) getting to the semi-finals.

It is clear to see that debuting teams struggle to cope with the rigours of the Champions League whilst also trying to compete domestically. A majority of the teams fail to get beyond the Group Stage of the Champions League; whilst there is a significant decrease in performance and results on the pitch in their domestic league, with 37 out of the 46 clubs having a worse points total than the season they qualified for the Champions League. How will Leicester cope with the strains and excitement of Champions League football? Only time will tell…