A Break In Form? A Dive Into the International Break
By Stephen Adams, International Correspondent
The International Break periods throughout the Premier League season can be a thorn in the side of many FPL managers. Players who have been in great form scoring points in bunches are sent around the globe to play for their national teams in a set of matches with varying importance. While this can be a great time for players not on international duty to rest, the question remains: do results during international breaks have an impact on a player’s form once the Premier League resumes? In order to answer this question, let’s examine three cases, starting with the player who has taken the Premier League by storm over the last month…
As the match was nearing its conclusion in Toronto with the United States losing their second game in the new CONCACAF Nations League to Canada, one of the worst results for the team in the decade, many people were wondering where Christian Pulisic was. When the cameras panned towards the bench, he was spotted, looking exasperated at what was occurring in front of him. After scoring the final goal in the United States’ 7-0 thrashing of Cuba from the penalty spot a few days earlier, Pulisic was subbed off in the 60th minute, with the out-of-his-elements manager claiming that he was suffering from the flu. Having not started a Premier League game since Matchday 4, and only making one appearance in the previous month in the league, things were looking grim for Pulisic.
Well, whatever medicine he received upon his return to London certainly cured what ailed him. Since returning from international duty, he has appeared in every match for the Blues. Of the 7 matches that have occurred during that time, he has started 5, and had a major impact on many of those matches. His great run of form started with a game-winning assist in a substitute appearance in Amsterdam against Ajax in the Champions League. He followed up that performance with a hat-trick against Burnley, again on the road, before scoring his first goal at Stamford Bridge on Matchday 12 against Crystal Palace. Coming off a busy summer of Gold Cup duty with the United States, Pulisic played well in the early season matches, including tallying an assist in the UEFA Super Cup against Liverpool, but he was unable to hold on to that spot amongst a crowded field at the Bridge until after this latest international break.
Despite being the current leader in Goals Scored this Premier League season, Jamie Vardy did not make Gareth Southgate’s most recent squad for the matches against Montenegro and Kosovo in the final UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying matches. However, we can look at historical data for Vardy, a player whose meteoric rise over the past few years has seen his reach incredible heights in both the club and international realms.
Going into the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Vardy was enjoying another stellar season in Leicester, scoring 14 goals in the 6 months before the start of the tournament. Vardy travelled to Russia in great form, having scored 3 goals in the last two matches of the 2017/18 season. Vardy started the final warm-up match for the Three Lions against Costa Rica, but did not start again until the meaningless third group game against Belgium. He became an important substitute in the extra-time matches against Colombia and Croatia, but he did not register a single goal or assist in his five appearances during the summer.
Heading back to the King Power, Vardy scored in a substitute appearance against Manchester United on Matchday 1, but followed that up with a 3-match ban following a red card against Wolves. In the next 4 months, Vardy was unable to regain his fine form from before the World Cup, scoring only 5 goals. This is obviously a troubling stat, but it seems to be an outlier in Vardy’s history. Looking back at 2017 year as a whole, Vardy returned twice from international duty and scored in his next match, while on his third return to the Foxes from Three Lions duty, it took him three matches to find the back of the net. While it seems that Vardy may be no longer in the plans of Southgate, his form after returning back to his club is an important statistic to look at for a multitude of England internationals.
The Senegalese star entered the 2019/20 season arguably the least-rested player in the Premier League. After playing 90 minutes in Liverpool’s Champions League final victory at the beginning of June, Mane headed straight to Egypt for African Cup of Nations duty for the Lions of Teranga. After not playing in their first group match, Mane started and played 90 minutes as Senegal marched all the way to the final before losing to Algeria. In those six matches, Mane scored three goals, missed a penalty kick, and had one assist.
The start to the 2019/20 Premier League season has been fantastic for Liverpool, and Mane has been a major part of that success. Mane has scored 7 goals so far to go along with two assists for the undefeated Reds. He picked up right where he left off during the second half of the 2018/19 season, having scored 15 goals in the final five months of Liverpool’s second-place campaign.
Senegal hasn’t had Mane’s services for a non-tournament match since the 2017 calendar year, when he joined the Lions for their World Cup qualifying campaign. While the campaign was successful for Senegal, Mane struggled upon his returns to Anfield from international duty, never scoring in the first two matches after returning. He picked up a significant hamstring injury after playing in a match against Cape Verde, missing 3 Premier League matches and 2 Champions League matches. Upon returning from match in Burkina Faso, he lasted 31 minutes before receiving a straight red and three match ban against Manchester City. Mane did return from the 2017 African Cup of Nations in Gabon at the beginning of the year to score 4 goals in the next 8 Premier League matches, before picking up a knee injury that would cost him the rest of his season.
Like so many aspects of Fantasy Premier League, it can be difficult to trust players who had great form after returning from an international break. However, by looking at these three players, it becomes clear that class and performance and the club level ultimately make the difference. Vardy and Mane both entered international breaks on form, and within a couple of matchweeks, on average, were back to their goal-scoring ways. While there isn’t as much evidence for Pulisic in his Chelsea colors, his return from the latest international break surely is a positive sign for his time in London. It is also important to consider travel, as players like Mane and Pulisic obviously have to travel further than those called up for England. Players face different challenges on international duty than in the Premier League. As such, it seems that Premier League form does not suffer from international breaks, and in some cases, helps players who are struggling with performance or playing time. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the international break!