Often the longest trip to make for the majority of teams in the UEFA Champions League (UCL) or UEFA Europa League (UEL) is to Russia or Ukraine. A lack of preparation due to the longer flights, difference in climates, the hostile atmospheres and even playing on artificial pitches could be seen as possible reasons teams are always keen to avoid the trip. But do these longer trips actually have a negative effect on a team’s performance in Europe? And what about the following domestic game?
European Teams vs Russian/Ukrainian Teams
From 2006/07 up until the end of the 2015/16 season, there were 246 fixtures played in Russia and Ukraine in the Champions League and Europa League combined. The following table shows all European Team’s records in Russia/Ukraine.
From the table it is clear to see that Russia and Ukraine are certainly not easy places to come and win; they boast strong home records, particularly in the Europa League. Teams around Europe in the Champions League have won 38.7% of their matches in Russia and Ukraine whereas teams in the Europa League have only won 20.7% of games in these two countries. The following table shows the win percentages of European teams in Russia/Ukraine over both competitions since 2006/07.
Only in the 2007/08 Champions League season did European teams win more than half their games in Russia or Ukraine; all other editions of the UCL have seen the win percentage range from 27.3% to 44.4%. In the 2008/09 and 2009/10 editions of the Europa League, neither Russian nor Ukrainian teams lost at home to other European teams. The highest win percentage for European teams winning in Russia and Ukraine was in 2013/14 at 34.8%, which is only above a third of the games. So, how have the major nations fared in both competitions?
Surprisingly in the Champions League, Italian and French teams have impressive records in Russia/Ukraine, with Spain and England having the lowest win percentage even, though in 29 games they have only lost five times between the two countries. In the Europa League however, this completely flips and the French and Italian teams have extremely poor records, with only three wins in 26 games between teams from the two countries. Spanish teams have a good record in the Europa League, which is not surprising considering their domination of the Europa League in recent years. English teams also again don’t have a great record in the Europa League; they clearly on trips to Eastern Europe.
Did the trip to Russia/Ukraine affect their next domestic game?
Usually, teams have a minimum of two to three days before their next domestic game after Champions League and Europa League Games, so will fatigue play a part? The following table shows the team’s domestic records the game after they played in Russia/Ukraine:
Here, the domestic records look very strong after playing in Russia or Ukraine. 66% of matches were won by teams domestically after playing in Russia or Ukraine in the Champions League. whereas 45% of matches were won by teams playing in the Europa League. You would expect this figure to be lower for teams in the Europa League as the Champions League is the premier competition, so you would expect them to be stronger in their domestic leagues.
To see if teams are struggling after playing a European game, we need to compare those win percentages to the average win percentages of teams that finish in the Champions League and Europa League places. The following graphs represent this:
Interestingly, English Teams are winning a much lower percentage of domestic games compared to the other four nations listed, which perhaps lends credence to the argument that there are no easy games in the Premier League. Contrastingly, in the seven games French teams have played in Russia or Ukraine, they have won the following six out of seven domestic games. Another example - FC Porto have played nine games in Russia and Ukraine in the last 10 years and have won every single domestic game after. The quality of those leagues is far less than that of the Premier League.
In almost all leagues across the five countries, teams are finishing in the Europa League places with almost identical win percentages, which in Italy and France means finishing one position higher due to the UEFA ranking coefficients. Italian and French teams appear to struggle domestically after playing Europa League games in Russia and Ukraine, as they are only winning 25% and 21.4% of matches respectively. Perhaps these teams are possibly struggling to cope with the demands of the trip to Russia and Ukraine, or maybe there is not enough quality in their squad to rest players. Whatever the reason, the fact is they are winning a lot less games after these trips than their average win percentage over the course of a season. German teams competing in the Europa League might start asking if they can be based in Russia or Ukraine because they have won 70% of games domestically compared to the 44.7% they win over the season in the Bundesliga.
UCL and UEL 2016/2017 – Who has to make the trip to Russia/Ukraine this year?
Already this year Spurs have travelled to Russia to play CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, whilst in the Europa League Manchester United will visit Ukraine to play FC Zorya Luhansk and Dundalk will travel to Russia to face Zenit St. Petersburg.
Spurs had never before played a Champions League match in Russia or Ukraine, although they have played four Europa League matches there, winning only once and losing on three occasions. The following table shows CSKA Moscow’s home record vs European Teams in the Champions League from 2006/07 until the end of 2015/16.
Considering Russian and Ukrainian Teams have very strong home records, CSKA Moscow don’t have a very impressive home record against other European teams, winning only seven out of 24 matches for the period we covered. Against English teams, they had only won once from five fixtures, but with Spurs’ victory on Tuesday in this season’s Champions League, CSKA’s disappointing record continues. Spurs have an important home tie against Manchester City 2nd October, five days after their match in Moscow, but fatigue cannot be an excuse considering Manchester City play away in the UCL on Wednesday.
Manchester United have never played a Europa League match in Russia or Ukraine, although they have played there four times in the Champions League, boasting a record of two wins and two draws. FC Zorya Luhansk have reached the Europa League group stages for the first time this year after losing in the play-off rounds in the last two years, so they do not have any sort of record in European competitions to look into. Manchester United play FC Zorya Luhansk on 8th December, with a home tie against Spurs – who have an extra day to recover and are playing at home in the Champions League – three days later. Will the long trip effect this result like it has with English teams in the past?
Dundalk – who have already exceeded expectations – qualified for the Europa League group stages and face a tough trip to face Zenit St. Petersburg. Zenit have an extremely strong home record in the Europa League vs European teams:
Dundalk play away at Zenit St. Petersburg on 3rd November, although the Irish team will not have a domestic game shortly after this tie as their season will have finished.
Looking at the data shown, Russia and Ukraine are clearly no easy places to win. In particular, English teams from both European competitions could certainly improve their records in Russia and Ukraine, and more importantly in their next domestic games. On the whole, there doesn’t look to be a massive issue that says you will suffer in your next domestic game after playing in Russia or Ukraine.