Are Chelsea the new Newcastle United?

Mourinho blames them for not having won the Premier League this past season, while everyone associated with Newcastle blames them for not having performed well at any point in time over the past several years.

Indeed the ominous injuries play a huge part in a team’s season and it seems that they will always haunt particular clubs or players. But maybe, just maybe, these injury crises are not the result of a Merlin jinx as many fans tend to believe. What if they are related to how the players are trained and how many minutes they play per week?

As the Daily Mail carefully pointed out, title rivals Manchester United and Chelsea have accumulated fifteen injuries between them before the season has even started. The curious thing about the injuries in the Old Trafford camp is that only one of the seven occurred during pre-season, that of Paul Scholes. New signings Hargreaves and Nani arrived injured while Gary Neville, Louis Saha, Solskjaer and Park Ji-Sung are carrying injuries they suffered last season.

In the Chelsea camp, the situation is rather different. While Michael Ballack, Ashley Cole and, to some extend, Andrei Shevchenko are nursing injuries suffered last season, the majority of Chelsea victims have picked up or aggravated injuries during the pre-season.

If it is all just a curse, than Chelsea look set to be the next hard hit team, taking over from Newcastle United. The treatment room at Stamford Bridge has constantly had at least one member since the horror injury that occurred to Petr Cech last autumn. There is no doubt that some of those injuries have only been the result of bad luck, however something seemed peculiar: there were more and more injuries, and the players took much longer than expected to recover. But there could be another crucial factor that might have triggered the ‘plague’.

I have not followed the pre-season friendlies with much interest, but one thing I have been keeping an eye on this summer is the results of the top five teams in England for those warm-up matches. The first thing that struck me was the amount of games Chelsea have played. Looking back I did find out that they played six games in the space of just sixteen days on two different continents. All of a sudden, the injuries that Chelsea have had to deal with are no longer a surprise. However Chelsea are not the only team to play an outrageous amount of pre-season friendlies, so why are they the most affected?

Bad luck might play a part, but what is more likely to be the cause of the ‘injury curse’ is the treatment of the players by the club. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho admitted that he made a mistake when he rushed Terry back to action last winter after his skipper had undergone surgery, but one would think that he learned from his mistakes. Instead, the Chelsea boss, has again been hit by a number of short-term injuries suffered by players whom he rushed back into action. The first was Wayne Bridge; the full-back had still not recovered from a hip injury he picked up in the England set up earlier this summer and he aggravated the injury in training. As if that was not enough defensive trouble for Mourinho, he chose to play John Terry against Rangers despite the fact that his captain had suffered a broken toe just a few days previously.

The list could continue, but the point has been made. Players, and more recently Chelsea players specifically, are sidelined either because of poor man management or physical strain. It is important to note that Chelsea players could play well over fifty games per season. Not only are they expected to play well, they are expected to reach the latter stages of every competition they play in and most of them also have international duty. But can the coaches do anything about this? Well, they should. Note that apart from a few players that are continuously injured at Anfield, the squad is generally healthy.

It should be agreed that there is little one can do to prevent injuries like the one which ruled Paul Scholes out for a few months last year or the Petr Cech one which nearly ended his career, but when they do occur the manager has to handle the situation very carefully. And Mourinho should not blame injuries if he loses a match in the next few months. He should “not argue with the facts” to put it in his own words.

I made a few mentions of Newcastle United and their injury crisis without elaborating. Their case could be more of bad luck, for instance Joey Barton has had very few injury problems during his time at Manchester City, but as soon as he came to Newcastle he is sidelined for a few months. But then the recurring injuries to Owen or Dyer raise some questions over the treatment that the players receive at St. James’ Park. Maybe they really are cursed or maybe the milk in Newcastle does not have enough calcium, but most likely the training routine and the care that injured players receive is at fault. (I wonder if Big Sam will bring his ‘vibrator’ machines over at Newcastle…)

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