Football News

Injury analyst puts Newcastle woes in context – and explains why Man City face “calculated” Haaland risk

By Harry Edwards

Published: 10:45, 13 December 2023

Premier League injury expert Ben Dinnery has spoken about Newcastle’s current situation and why luck is playing a part.

Dinnery also discussed Nick Pope’s shoulder injury, the upcoming busiest Christmas period and which clubs have had bad injury pileups in the past.

There was room for a quick word on Fantasy Premier League too, and in particular the Erling Haaland conundrum many managers face.

Ben Dinnery is a respected and leading football injury analyst with over 163k followers on Twitter, while he is also the founder of trusted football injury analysis website Premier Injuries.

Jump to:

HE: Newcastle are one of the most injury-hit teams in the Premier League right now. What’s your view on their fitness problem? Is it bad luck, or poor squad management/playing-time management?

BD: Very difficult from the outside looking in. There are always external factors, influencing factors, of which luck is part of that. The problem is, from this point, it doesn’t look great. But I looked at the data and over the same period last season, up until the international break, we’ve actually seen a downturn in the number of injuries suffered at Newcastle. And I think we need to contextualise everything, because you look at those headline figures and you think ‘that team’s doing good, that team isn’t doing so well’. But when we factor in that they’re playing in European football, in the Champions League, and we talk about exposure and the number of minutes played. And statistically, it’s no rocket science, the more games you play, the more minutes you have, the bigger the likelihood is that you’re going to pick up a few injuries.

The difficulty is you’re picking up injuries in key areas, then the demands on your squad become greater. You’re then not able to maybe rotate and manage the squad as you would wish and like, and players are then being pushed to the cusp of their physical capabilities and you’re just being managed from game to game, and you’re going out and playing. And the difficulty is, it’s this vicious circle, you’re forced to maybe take decisions on players that ordinarily, or ideally, you would maybe like to rotate and swap out. There’s a risk when they cross that white like that those players are going to pick up problems. And unfortunately, we’ve seen that in the relentless nature of the actual league showing that there’s not much recovery.

What I would say though, although those headline figures do look quite big in terms of actual soft tissue and muscle injuries up until the international break, only five of those were muscle related. So again you do need to contextualise around the mechanism of injury and the types of problems that you had. Ones off the top of your head, you can say, “Team X has had so many injuries” but you can look at Jacob Murphy: dislocated shoulder; Nick Pope: dislocated shoulder; you had Sven Botman which is a knee problem as well; there’s Sean Longstaff which was an ankle issue. So some of these you need to look at and think, well that’s part and parcel of playing football. It is a contact sport, players will get injured. Like I say, sometimes you just have that little bit of luck with the more games, where you pick up those injuries, all of sudden that injury list is beginning to look a little bit worrisome.

HE: With Nick Pope, this is his second shoulder injury. Do you think Newcastle should be especially nervous about this being a recurring thing?

BD: Recurrence isn’t something that I would really associate with this. I think we’re going back four-and-a-half years since Nick Pope first injured that left shoulder when he was at Burnley. Look, it was a fairly innocuous landing, awkward fall that caused that dislocation of the shoulder. I think it’s probably a move that he’s made on the training pitches and within games, probably 999 times out of a thousand and never had an issue. And, of course, this one particular incident, we need surgical intervention. Now, hopefully, and there are no guarantees with this by the way, not just with this injury, but with any injury and with any sort of serious injury that they go under a knife, but we can be fairly confident that this problem will be addressed.

The difficulty with the shoulder in particular, it’s a fairly shallow joint, which means that they are prone to partial or full dislocations. That will be addressed, there will be a lot of work done, concentrated around that to make sure that shoulder girdle, that socket, is nice and sound and solid. And I’m sure we’ll see Nick Pope back in, he will still have his eye on maybe going to the Euros with England in the summer. And that’s going to be his motivation and his goal, and who knows where Newcastle will be, come the latter stages of the season. Maybe, mid-to-late-April or early May, we still may be hopefully in with a fight of qualifying for Champions League and we might have a domestic cup opportunity there as well for him to aim for.

HE: Newcastle aren’t the only team in quite a bit of trouble with injuries at the minute. In all your years of tracking Premier League fitness, what’s the worst injury criss you can remember?

BD: Crisis isn’t a word that I like to throw around. Because we’re working with such big squads these days, and yeah, the numbers are high sometimes. But I do recall, a few seasons back when Norwich, it’s the highest I had on record, I think we had 19 players absent from the first-team squad, I think it was a game for Daniel Farke. By absent, that could include players who are maybe suspended or unavailable for whatever reason, maybe personal reasons and things like that. Generally there’s been several instances in the past. Newcastle, my hometown club, where we’re seen 13, 14, players sidelined; and there was a lot of talk back in the day with regards to Arsenal and their recurring injury problems. The Jack Wilsheres, the Aaron Ramseys, the Abou Diabys; Manchester United.

But like I say, again, contextualise. These were teams who tended to have higher numbers because they played more games. And if you’re comparing maybe a Newcastle or a Brighton this season with maybe a Burnley, a team who fundamentally has just played domestic football and they’re playing one game per week, then they’re not like-for-like comparisons. And what we try to do is even the playing field by looking at injury incidents per 1,000 competitive minutes played and generally, although Newcastle had suffered the most injuries in the Premier League this season in terms of time loss as a headline figure, based on injuries per thousand minutes played, their incident rates are actually mid-table.

HE: We’re coming up to the Christmas period and we know that the fixture list can be quite gruelling. Are there any teams you’ve noticed with a particularly troubling festive fixture list this year? Chelsea have got four games in 11 days, including that Christmas Eve match.

BD: It’s difficult, because around this time of year, do we see more injuries than we normally would? Yeah. But that will inherently be because we have more fixtures closer together than we normally would. So again, we would break it down. And in terms of incidence levels per 1,000, there hasn’t been a massive fluctuation. Last season we actually saw a huge downturn and that didn’t really come as any major shock because players were coming off the back of almost that pre-season programme. Players that were fully rested, refreshed and able to sort of focus on the back end of the season. Whereas, season on season, typically you would have players who are coming into those Boxing Day and festive fixtures, on the back of three or possibly even four months of heavy fixtures. So last year’s figures were slightly misleading on that. It is a time of year that we will see heavy rotation probably amongst the highest at any point during the season in terms of the number of rotations. But how manages and how clubs decide, and how much, will come down to again, some of those other influencing factors around how many players they have currently sidelined and what options they have in certain positions.

You talk about injury crisis and to backtrack a little, there was an instance I think two seasons ago where Liverpool may have only had five or six injuries, but I think three of four of those players all affected positions at centre-back. [Virgil] van Dijk, [Joel] Matip, [Joe] Gomez. All of those players, which meant that Jordan Henderson had to deputise at centre-back position. So it’s how you would define, in terms of your crisis. Is it purely based on the high number? Availability? Are 15 players out for Manchester United as impactful as eight players being out for Burnley, for example, who have smaller squads and who maybe don’t have the depth of those other teams. So that’s why I’m maybe a little bit reluctant to use the word crisis because I think, certainly across the board, because there are different, they have varying implications for different managers and coaches, and teams, and individual players as well.

HE: We’re a bit in the dark on Erling Haaland at the minute. Is it worth the risk of selling (in FPL), given the uncertainty with his injury and the fact that Man City have the Club World Cup coming up?

BD: He’s a premium asset that comes with a premium price tag, and we know the Erling Haaland ceiling is extremely high. The problem we have is that it’s a stress response, so it’s a loading issue. Those are one of these things that sort of respond really well to conservative management. So it will be a case of easing Erling Haaland back, modifying activity — so maybe going more to pool work or bike work, less of the activities that are maybe aggravating that foot, and then gradually increasing. Now the difficulty that you have, it’s hard to give a specific time frame, you don’t really know how that foot is going to respond to certain stressors. You could have three or four days of good training and then Pep gets him fully integrated with the squad matchday two. And then all of a sudden, you have a little bit of a flare up in a reaction to that. So that’s the difficulty in and around that.

It’s always going to be a calculated risk. But what I would say with Erling Haaland, it definitely will be a case of managing him, certainly between the games and at every opportunity maybe even during gameplay. So it’s whether you want a player to maybe play 90 minutes week in and week out. We know what Erling Haaland can do in such a short time frame, even from the bench, he’s more than capable of getting a hat-trick. So that’s the conundrum you’re presented with, with Erling Haaland. And do you know what? I think it may be a good thing in terms of FPL, because it sort of gives managers, it poses a question on whether to have him or not. Instead of everyone just going, ‘well you’ve got to have him if you want to have a decent rank, because if you get him you reap the rewards, if you don’t you’re going to slip down that table’, So I think this is good for FPL and it forces managers to think outside the box a little bit.

Ben Dinnery was speaking to Squawka on behalf of