With an ever-growing emphasis on speed and physicality within the game, in addition to the expanding number of games per season, Bundesliga clubs face the tough challenge of keeping their players fit throughout the season. As it turns out, the challenge is met with varying levels of success.
The football site Fussballverletzungen.de has tracked the amount of injury days compiled by each club over the course of the season. The results are staggering, as teams with roughly the same squad size and same number of games played have vastly different results in terms of keeping their players fit.
The Bundesliga injury table created by fussballverletzungen.de, courtesy of Fabian Siegel.
Injuries impacting the battle against relegation
At the end of a long season, many fans wonder whether their team would have fared better had certain players not been injured. Teams fighting the drop this season had vastly different fortunes with player injuries.
One one side, there’s SV Darmstadt, who had a massive focus on preventing injuries. The Lillies were rewarded for their strategy of increasing the intensity of certain training sessions and having a focus on diet over the course of the season. Darmstadt players missed only 500 days to injury, giving them a vital advantage when it came to fighting the drop. Individually, that means that the average Darmstadt player was injured for only 17 days this season, which is far better a result that any other team in the drop zone or just above the relegation places can claim.
Werder Bremen and Eintracht Frankfurt have traditionally struggled when it comes to injuries, and this season has been no different for either club. Before the start of the season, the Eagles had an average of around 1508 injury days per season. The 2015-16 season was even worse, with players spending a whopping 1,690 days on the DL, meaning the average Eintracht player spent 58 days on the sidelines.
The Green-and-Whites from the Weserstadion had an above-average season when it comes to preventing injury, but their record was still not great. In the four seasons prior to this one, the team was injured an average of 2184 days per season. This season, the total was 1622 days. Even so, that meant that Viktor Skripnik missed the average Werder player for around 51.5 days this season.
Going by Darmstadt’s season, officials at Eintracht and Werder may wonder if they could improve their teams performances by simply paying more attention to the prevention of injuries.
Pep and his doctors
One of the biggest controversies of Pep Guardiola’s stint in Munich was the fact that long serving Bayern doc Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt was let go after a conflict between him and the new Manchester City coach. The matter had been brewing over a long period of time. Pep wanted the players back too quickly, Müller-Wohlfahrt told the club, but the Catalonian coach wasn’t having it, resulting in the 73-year-old’s physician’s departure.
As it turns out, the doc may have had a point, as Bayern have seen a rise in player injuries ever since the coach got to the club. During Jupp Heynckes’ two seasons at the club, the Bavarians suffered 904 and 1004 player injury days. Under Pep, this number first rose to 1174 and then to 1927 before dropping back down to 1563 injury days this season. Whichever way you look at it, Pep’s asking players to perform sooner than club doctors recommend has cost the team and ultimately the players.
The most-famous casualty of that policy is Franck Ribery, who was put straight back into action after missing over 200 days and was injured straight away just before the winter break.
It is fair to say that the increase in injuries hasn’t cost Bayern an awful lot in the league and DFB Pokal, as the club won three championships and two cups under Guardiola, but it is fair to raise the question whether or not Pep would have been better served by listening to Müller-Wohlfahrt and his medical team when it comes to competing in the Champions League. Amazing squad depth in the Bundesliga doesn’t necessarily mean that one can rely on that same depth when it comes to competing against the best teams in Europe.
Borussia Mönchengladbach – Champions League despite injury nightmare
If there’s one side which has lived off preventing injuries over the last few seasons it has been the Foals. In the last four seasons prior to the 2015/16 campaign, the players at BorussiaPark were injured for 637 days on average. In an article published by 11 Freunde, team doctor Heribert Ditzel explained why the team had fared so well over the last few seasons:
“Us physicians, the physiotherapists, and the rehab and athletic coaches are getting along splendidly and we respect the others’ competence.”
However, this season has seen a steep increase in injuries, as the players were out 53 days on average and the team compiled a total of 1414 injury days. That’s an increase of over 100% from recent seasons. Even prevention work doesn’t help should unfortunate circumstances hit. This season has seen both Andre Hahn and Martin Stranzl spend a combined total of 227 days on the sidelines after being on the receiving end of horrible challenges. Seeing both Geis’s tackle on Hahn and the elbow that hit Stranzl in the region around the eye, one is tempted to state that no amount of prevention work would have helped either player.
Borussia Dortmund turn around their fortunes
On the other side, we have seen that a change in coach and playing philosophy can help to prevent injuries. Thomas Tuchel’s style of play is less focused on quick breaks and loads of running than was the case under Jürgen Klopp, under whom Dortmund’s players were traditionally among the most-frequently injured in the league. Since his successor at both Mainz and Dortmund arrived, the BVB’s injury fortunes have turned around.
However, the fact that the average Dortmund player has only spent an average of 32 days on the sidelines may also be down to Tuchel’s increased focus on diet and injury prevention. Dortmund have often suffered from important players missing at the wrong time, but the fact that the average Borussia player spent nearly half of the amount time injured compared to the average Bayern player should have certainly been an advantage for Tuchel’s team.