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17 Nov 2016 by TSZ

The Impact Of International Breaks On Top FPL Performers

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As concerns have been voiced in the FPL community this past week over the well-being of fantasy giants Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard during a period of World Cup qualification action, it seems a fitting time to shine our analytical torch on a period none of us particularly relish.

We all know that Premier League managers – especially those at top clubs – enjoy international breaks as much Steven Gerrard likes being reminded about a certain slip, but for FPL managers, it can also be a time of fear and uncertainty as we all suddenly become Arsene Wenger in our anguished concern for our precious stars.

Rather than moaning to the press though, we’ve decided to take a statistical look at how a few select FPL players have been affected by previous international breaks. Are they often rested in the first Premier League game after their return? Do the gruelling international qualifiers and the long-distance travel have an adverse effect on points returns? We have selected four players who have been amongst the highest FPL scorers both this season and last.

Last season
We’ll start by looking at statistics from 2015-16, where there were four international breaks spread across the season; gameweeks 5, 9, 13 and 32 follow a period of international duty.

Sergio Aguero

Beneath the numbers
Given there are only two relevant gameweeks to go on in terms of numbers, the averages should be taken with a pinch of salt, however there is an interesting narrative if we dig a little deeper. After the first international break of the season, Aguero lasted just 24 minutes into the away clash with Crystal Palace before being withdrawn with injury. This was his third game of that week following two appearances for Argentina (in which he scored three times). On the face of it, it looks like these exertions may have been a contributing factor in his early withdrawal, but in fact he was taken off following an impact injury thanks to a late Scott Dann tackle. It therefore cannot be argued that this situation was directly related to international action. The same cannot be said of the second international break however, as the Argentine injured his hamstring whilst representing his country, ultimately ruling him out for over a month. The striker returned to domestic action in gameweek 13 – directly after the third international break – hence his gameweek score not being applicable for this analyses. The first game after the final international break of the season saw Aguero get on the scoresheet, although it’s notable that he didn’t last the full 90 minutes here.

Romelu Lukaku

Beneath the numbers
The big Belgian’s minutes were not reduced in the games following an international break last year, and generally it was very rare for the striker not to last the whole 90 minutes throughout the season. In terms of points output, Lukaku blanked on three of the four occasions on his return to domestic action, but he did manage a brace against Aston Villa in Gameweek 13. Judging by these stats alone, it appears that the impact of international football on the striker’s fantasy prospects was negligible in 2015-16.

Alexis Sanchez

Beneath the numbers
There has long been tension between Arsenal and Chile over the use of Alexis Sanchez, with recent events doing nothing to heal relations. It seems that every time the Chilean joins up with the national team a story hits the news about an injury he’s carrying. Whether these are exaggerations of the truth concocted by Wenger in order to protect his star player remains to be seen, but if we look at last year’s numbers we can see that Sanchez performs just as well for Arsenal following international action as he does in other games. We hesitate to say ‘better’ because it’s a sample of only four games to go on, but we can see two impressive points returns here in gameweek 9 and gameweek 32. On only one occasion (gameweek 13) did Wenger keep Sanchez on for the whole game, but this is hardly out of the ordinary given the fact he generally adopts a cautious policy in his use of the Chilean; the average minutes played figure for games after an international break is largely in keeping with the season as a whole.

Kevin De Bruyne

Beneath the numbers
Given his relatively young age, you would expect that Manchester City’s De Bruyne would be able to cope juggling the rigours of international football with Premier League action. We’re certainly not suggesting this isn’t the case, but his output after matches for Belgium last season only yielded one assist in three games, resulting in an average of 3.3 points – significantly less than the 5.5 he averaged in all other games. Again though, this has to be taken with a pinch of salt given the small sample size. The midfielder did in fact play for City in gameweek 32, but this was his first game back after a lengthy injury layoff which saw him miss the preceding international break.

This season
Of course, there have already been two international breaks this season, so can we deduce anything from more recent examples? Gameweeks 4 and 8 are the periods in question.

Sergio Aguero

Beneath the numbers
Aguero missed the first international break through injury and was subsequently absent for gameweek 4, whereas he played in both of Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers in the next break despite a calf strain, which prompted Guardiola to start with Aguero on the bench against Everton in gameweek 8. Circumstances dictated that the Spanish manager was forced to introduce his star striker to action in the second half despite his better judgement, a decision he was left to rue after Aguero missed a penalty – his resulting score of -1 a statistic many FPL managers wish to forget. The Argentine has only been used sparingly on international duty this past week, so Guardiola will be hoping for better fortunes on his return this time.

Romelu Lukaku

Beneath the numbers
Lukaku has performed excellently for Everton this season upon his return from international duty, plundering in a hat-trick in gameweek 4 against Sunderland and putting the Toffees ahead against Man City in gameweek 8. It should be noted though, that on both these stints with the national team, Lukaku didn’t play a full two games, which only served to help the big striker stay fresh for domestic action. That trend has continued this past week as he played 116 minutes out of a possible 180 for Belgium. Given recent history, Swansea certainly shouldn’t expect to face a fatigued striker on Saturday – bad news for Bob Bradley’s side but good news for Lukaku’s FPL owners.

Alexis Sanchez

Beneath the numbers
Such is his importance to the national side and his willingness and desire to represent his county, Sanchez tends to play full matches for Chile, so it’s not surprising that we see Wenger tearing his hair out every time his leading talent jets off to South America. The Chilean’s exertions during international duty in September prompted Wenger to bench him in gameweek 4, as clearly he was concerned about the physical demands being placed on his forward. Sanchez clocked 81 minutes for Arsenal following the break in October, meaning that on only one occasion in the last two seasons has Wenger kept Sanchez on the field for a full 90 minutes following his return from Chile. FPL managers should therefore be wary of his gametime for this weekend’s clash with Man Utd, as he played through the pain barrier to notch two goals in the South American qualifiers on Tuesday. Additionally, Olivier Giroud has had a positive impact when he’s been given a chance lately, so Wenger has the option of calling upon the Frenchman’s services instead if he feels Sanchez is too much of a risk.

Kevin De Bruyne

Beneath the numbers
The Belgian playmaker played near enough two full games for his country before gameweek 4, but there were seemingly no ill effects of this as what followed was an excellent 13-point haul against Man Utd. De Bruyne was out of action for three weeks in late September and early October, but as this coincided with the second international break, this meant he only missed one Premier League clash for Man City. In the past week, De Bruyne played in both of Belgian’s matches, but recent history suggests this shouldn’t negatively impact his output this weekend.

Of the four players we have studied, Sergio Aguero’s FPL performance seems to have been most negatively impacted by international duty over the past two seasons; on the three occasions he has featured for City following a return from South America, he has only clocked 24, 78 and 35 minutes respectively, whilst he has also missed domestic action as a result of injuries sustained whilst playing for Argentina. Alexis Sanchez is an interesting case as he’s a player who always wants to play whether he’s injured or not, which has perhaps been his undoing at times. Wenger has been cautious with the Chilean after international breaks so we’d be very surprised to see him play a full 90 minutes on the weekend, especially as he’s said to be carrying a thigh injury. In Romelu Lukaku’s case, given these results we don’t expect any significant impact on his gametime this weekend, especially because Ronald Koeman isn’t blessed with an abundance of options up front. It’s also worth noting that Lukaku has scored in 50% of Everton’s matches in the first game following international action. Finally, there are mixed results for Kevin De Bruyne but his goal and assist in gameweek 4 this season, which followed two games for Belgium, shows that the midfielder is able to maintain a high level of performance on such occasions.

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