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A complete 2015/16 end of season Premier League injury review

Coming into the final weekend of the Premier League there wasn’t much left to decide in the league, with Leicester having wrapped up the title a couple of weeks ago and Sunderland’s win at Everton last week sending both Norwich and Newcastle into the Championship without even needing to kick a ball.

In what was a turbulent day there is still one game left to play in a situation which has never arisen before and hopefully, never likely to arise again in the future with the events in Manchester. The inquest will no doubt begin on the situation but if there is a positive to be taken from it, it is that no one was hurt and there was no danger to fans. Early calculations are that it will cost united around £3million in compensating fans though costs from a Bournemouth perspective have yet to be released. The match has been rescheduled for Tuesday night.

Premier League End of Season Injury Review Infographic

Top of the tree

Aside from the events in Manchester yesterday it has been a memorable season and one we are unlikely to see again, most notably with the 5,000-1 outsides taking the league by storm and ending the season 10 points clear at the top of the league and having lost just three games all season which is remarkable. Other things to note that it was one of the lowest winning points totals seen in the Premier League and Leicester actually used fewer players than anyone else to help dispel the myth of Ranieri the ‘tinkerman’.

From an injury perspective Leicester also ended the season with just one player out of action and that was through suspension, with Robert Huth having been banned for violent conduct. If we look at the top three in general then Arsenal (second place) finished with four players out of action and Tottenham (third place) finished with just two players out of action.

Arsenal have seen some quite serious injuries this season, with a number of knee injuries (most recently Danny Welbeck) and the ever present Jack Wilshere who must now have his own physio room. For once he is not actually on the list. It could be said that injuries have hampered their season with around six injuries at the turn of the year or it could simply have been that they dropped off as seen with many other seasons before it, lacking the ability to maintain momentum.

Tottenham had a fantastic season, only overshadowed by Leicester, though their final match was rather embarrassing and resulted in Arsenal leapfrogging them to take the bragging rights for North London. They will be disappointed with how the season ended given that they were challenging Leicester for the top spot for a large part of the season.

Premier League Injuries by Team - May 2016

Championship here we come

Aston Villa were consigned to the Championship long before it was official. It has all gone wrong for the Midlands club and they now have to spend some time rebuilding if they are ever going to get back into the Premier League and be the top half team which they were ten years ago. Injuries have not helped their cause, finishing the season with seven players out of action (second place in the injury table). Would that have really made a difference to the final league standings given that half the team seemed to have given up and some players spent more time sidelined with club suspensions than playing.

Norwich may well be heading to the Championship next season but they did win something, having topped the injury league table, with eight players out of action. This may have had an impact on the pitch as every team needs their best players available, especially when you’re fighting relegation. Out of the eight players currently sidelined three of these have suffered knee ligament damage and one has had ankle surgery, none of which are small injuries.

Newcastle may have ended the season on a high with a demolition of Tottenham but it wasn’t enough to stop their drop into the Championship for the second time in eight years. They finished the injury league table in second place with seven injuries and one behind first placed Norwich, though like Norwich they have seen a number of serious knee injuries this season ruling out some of their main players. The big question is had the likes of Tim Krul been available would that have plugged up the leaky defence or was it a foregone conclusion given the influx of players with no Premier League experience and a manager who took the job having been sacked for failing to reach the playoffs in the first division with Derby?

What is keeping players out of action?

All season the top injuries have centred on the knee and thigh, though if we look at how the season finished knee injuries are well out in front with twenty-six, with thigh injuries having dropped to twelve.

Premier League Injuries by Area of Body - May 2016

Knee injuries have always been associated with footballers, especially damage to the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), with nine players currently out of action. Out of the twenty-six knee injuries listed, eighteen are as a result of ligament damage. The ACL is located at the front of the knee and is largely responsible for stabilising the knee joint and stopping your knee from moving forward beyond what it should do. Damage the ACL and walking, running and jumping become increasingly difficult and if you rupture it then you’re normally looking at around nine months on the sidelines. In the event of a rupture the ligament sometimes can’t be repaired and instead a graft will be taken from the hamstring or groin to create a new ligament.

Diagram of a torn anterior cruciate ligament

Tyrone Mings is worth a mention as he was unlucky enough to rupture both his ACL and MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament - inside knee), so with 50% of his ligaments gone he will be undertaking an intensive and long period of rehabilitation and is not expected to be back in action until September at the earliest.

If we look at the twelve thigh injuries listed then eleven of these are hamstring injuries which is another common injury seen in football and amongst runners. When players sprint from a standing start they put immense strain on the hamstrings (muscles at the back of the leg) and where there is a weakness can lead to anything from a minor tear to a complete rupture. The former will see a player out of action for a week or so and can be quite painful whereas the latter is pretty noticeable with severe bruising, pain and a long spell on the sidelines. Surgery is often used to stitch the hamstring back together.

One injury to note is that of Wilfried Zaha who is currently out of action following a buttock injury (Gluteal Strain) which is something that hasn’t featured on the list before and is something clinicians don’t see a lot of. It’s hard to say how this might have happened but he won’t be back in action until the end of the month.

Longest injury layoff?

Looking down the listings there are three players who are not set to feature for their teams again until 2017, and it’s not even June 2016 yet. Ibrahim Afellay of Stoke is out until January following an ACL injury, whilst Danny Welbeck (meniscal tear) Stephen Ireland (double leg fracture) are not expected to be back on the pitch until early February 2017. It can never be easy for a player in being out of action for so long and then following initial recovery having to get back into shape and at the same level they left the pitch, but clubs have excellent teams in place to ensure they give everything a player needs to achieve this.

Do injuries influence success?

The obvious answer is yes, but it depends. It depends which players are injured, who you have to replace them, the depth of the squad etc.

Leicester have not suffered many injuries this season but if you knew that at the start of the season would the odds of them winning the league have been reduced? Had Newcastle or Norwich not suffered any injuries would they have been challenging Leicester for the title? Probably not. On a side note next season will be the biggest challenge for Leicester to see what happens, will they be the side from this season or the one from the season before it or somewhere in the middle?

It is no coincidence that the teams at the bottom end of the league are all at the top end of the injury league table, yet United sit in roughly the same place in both the injury table and actual table with seven players out of action. If they had a full strength squad then would it have guaranteed Champions League football? Many United fans believe the issue is with the manager rather than who is on the pitch, but a few players have come in for criticism.

Injuries can influence the performance of a team throughout the season and it can be devastating when a few key players are all out of action together but this simply gives opportunities to younger players (look at United & Tottenham) to fill the gap and impress, so squad depth is important. What has been clear this season is that nothing makes sense and that is the beauty of the Premier League. Who would have thought Leicester would have dominated as they did? That Chelsea would crumble as they did and sack Mourinho? Or that Sunderland would perform the great escape and keep Allardyce’s record intact of never having been relegated?

This is why the Premier League is one of the most exciting leagues in the world.