Introducing the Premier League Covid Resilience Metric

Date published: Thursday 30th December 2021 11:58 - Editor F365

Yet more games were lost over the festive period, and literally nobody has any real clue as to how these decisions are made. We’ve had a crack at trying to understand it, and then extrapolate from that how well (or not) each Premier League squad is set up to cope with These Uncertain Times.

If there is one certainty to be clung to, amid the whirling storm clouds of omicron and PCR-shortages, fox hunt fights and brainless pov-bantz, it is that when it comes to the Premier League, the show must go on. Except, that is, for when it can’t. Which is when an arcane process, decided on a case-by-case basis, by an institution with all the transparency of the Stasi, say it mustn’t. For reasons that they then fumble through in a press release.

Yet, this is where we are. And rather than going full Bugsy Malone and saying bollocks to it, let’s just play the kids, or simply shrugging apathetic, nonplussed shoulders at the sheer impenetrability of it all, it might – might – be worthwhile trying to understand the process as it stands, and what it means for the clubs in question.

So, let’s give it a go. Taking the Premier League’s diktat that if a club can field thirteen outfield players and one goalkeeper, from the “players available on the squad list and any Under-21 players with appropriate experience”, here is an attempt to assess the Covid Resilience Metric™ of all 20 clubs. They are ranked in order, from most to least vulnerable. The ranking takes into account a number of factors that contribute to how readily each club should be able to absorb substantial absences, and still put out a side that is not drastically weaker than their best XI. Just in time for the transfer window, and for everything to change.

A brief note. This is an entirely subjective reading of a number of entirely abstract concepts; in particular, that of “appropriate experience”. It is defined here – which could, potentially, perhaps be how the Premier League sees it – as having either started a European or domestic cup tie this season, or having featured in the Premier League, before the first Covid cancellation on 12th December. With anything after that, the waters around whether or not a player is first-team-ready obviously become muddied. Also, whilst a substitute appearance in a meaningful Champions League game is enough, dead rubbers are null and void. Sorry, Charlie Savage. Maybe next year.

For anyone unsure of Premier League squad rules, teams are allowed to register up to 25 players at the end of each transfer window, eight of whom must be “home-grown”. Players aged 21 or younger do not have to be registered. Also included here are average ages of matchday squads, as that feels somehow instructive, and Under-21s deemed to be part of the first-team squads are themselves split, between established and not. As to how this particular distinction is drawn, it just sort of is. Okay? Good. On we go, then.

 

20. Leeds
17 registered. 6 first-team U-21s (1 established). Effective squad size: 23. Average age: 24.9.
2 postponements, both requested.

Sheesh. Marcelo Bielsa does like to keep a small squad. Now, whilst it has clearly worked for him previously, and to criticise the great man is held in some corners to be heresy, the sight of 15-year-old Archie Gray on the bench for Leeds’ 4-1 reverse against Arsenal suggests that it is not really working at the moment. There have been injuries – a sh*tload of them, in fairness – but there remains a sense that this is, to some extent, a mess of their own making. And while in addition to Illan Meslier they do have a number of intriguing youngsters – Crysencio Summerville, Charlie Cresswell, and Joe Gelhardt stand out – Leeds have had 15 different Under-21 players feature in their matchday squads this term. That is not just giving youth a chance; it is a squad stretched to breaking point.

 

19. Watford
23 registered. 2 first-team U-21s (2 established). Effective squad size: 25. Average age: 28.3.
3 postponements, all requested.

Well, no wonder. The squad is small, it is old, and unbeknownst to anyone, includes Dan Gosling. Whilst Joao Pedro (11) and Jeremy Ngakia (12) have featured regularly, there is a real lack of anything beneath them. There is no real surprise to this; as a side battling relegation from day one, it is wholly understandable that they would privilege experience over youth, and use the Carabao Cup to give established squad players a run-out, rather than the kids. That said, it really does leave them vulnerable when Covid strikes, as we have seen of late.

 

18. Wolves
21 registered. 4 first-team U-21s (4 established). Effective squad: 25. Average age: 26.5.
2 postponements, 1 requested.

Feels pretty small. Is pretty small. Especially bearing in mind that one of the established foursome is Pedro Neto, who has not featured all season due to injury but is expected back soon. With effectively 24 players, then, it is quite impressive Wolves’ own issues have only resulted in one postponement. A resilient bunch, the Portuguese – who, moderately intriguingly, comprise 38% of Wolves’ registered players. Fail to bolster the ranks in January, however, and there may well be cancellations ahead.

 

17. Aston Villa
21 registered. 4 first-team U-21s (1 of whom established). Effective squad size: 25. Average age: 25.7.
2 postponements, 1 requested.

Not that great, but not as terrible as it may at first appear. With Jacob Ramsey something of a revelation, and a number of hot prospects waiting in the wings, Villa’s squad actually looks to have a good number of first-team-ready younglings, even if they have not yet been given much of a chance. Most notably – although apparently not for long – the prodigiously-talented and excellently-named Carney Chukwemeka, who has featured six times this campaign. Alongside him in last season’s FA Youth Cup win were a number of Carabao Cup substitutes who don’t make the list, but could theoretically do a job if our water-tight definition of “appropriate experience” is broadened. There is also Cameron Archer kicking about, who scored a cup hat-trick on debut against Barrow.

 

16. Man City
19 registered. 8 first-team U-21s (2 established/establishing). Effective squad size: 27. Average age: 27.2.
0 postponements.

I know. City’s squad is huge because they just buy up all the talent with their petro-billions and it’s not fair on anyone else, et cetera. Except, this really isn’t true. It is the third-smallest in the division. It must be said that their squad was 20-strong, but the Premier League have decided to clandestinely, and sensibly, strike Benjamin Mendy from the record – yet, it is still an insanely small squad. Especially when you consider that of the eight youth players to feature here, five have only started once, in a 6-1 Carabao Cup demolition of Wycombe Wanderers. And with the departure of Ferran Torres, you are only left with 19, plus James McAtee, Cole Palmer and the already world class Phil Foden. However, as City appear to be coasting serenely through the chaos to a fourth title in five years, they really can’t appear any lower in this list.

15. Newcastle
25 registered. 1 first-team U-21 (was 0). Effective squad size: 26. Average age: 28.5.
1 postponement, 1 requested.

It feels entirely fatuous even writing this. Who has any idea what Newcastle’s squad will look like by the end of January? Bolstered – boosted even, in the parlance of our times – but by whom? Jesse Lingard? Ousmane Dembele? Robinho feels about right. Either way, if they are over-21, some deadweight will have to be shifted in order for them to be registered; fortuitously, there is plenty of that around. Or, alternatively, they could inject some young blood into the third-oldest squad in the league. Their recall of Matty Longstaff from his loan at Aberdeen appears to suggest that this may well be on Eddie Howe’s agenda.

 

14. Southampton
25 registered. 3 first-team U-21s (2.33333 established). Effective squad size 28. Average age: 26.7.
1 postponement, requested by opposition.

The numbers here are slightly misleading, and not just the 1/3 of an established player – Will Smallbone, incidentally, who made something of a splash a couple of years ago, before rupturing an ACL from which he is only now fully recovered. No, the Saints’ squad appears to be bigger than it is, with a number of those registered getting nowhere near the first-team. In Harry Lewis, they have a fourth-choice goalkeeper, plus there is Sam McQueen (no, I don’t know either), and Oliver Lancashire; signed at 33 years old to play and train with the Under-23s, but still registered with the Premier League, presumably in case of emergencies. Time will tell if one arises but it seems probable.

 

13. Burnley
25 registered. 1 first-team U-21 (1 established???). Effective squad size: 26. Average age: 30.2.
3 postponements, all requested by opponent.

I mean, yeah. Clearly. Whilst centre-back Nathan Collins – plucked from Stoke a couple of years ago – has made eight appearances this season, the Clarets aren’t exactly known for blooding exciting young talents. Whilst other clubs may have their types, Burnley’s is arguably the most defined: the reliable, experienced workhorse, and probably British to boot. Only four of their squad hails from the non-English speaking world, and of them, only Maxwell Cornet has not been in Blighty long enough to remember Woolworths.

 

12. Everton
24 (but actually 23) registered. 4 first-team U-21s (1 established). Effective squad size: 27. Average age: 28.1.
3 postponements, 1 requested.

As with all things Everton, the situation here is far from straightforward. A combination of rotten luck with injuries, and some mystifying decision-making has reduced what – numerically, at least – should be a resilient squad, to its bare bones. Of the 24 registered was James Rodriguez – despite it being abundantly clear from the outset that Rafa Benitez was about as interested in him as most Evertonians are in Rafa Benitez – and Cenk Tosun is another. With Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison struggling for fitness, you can’t help but feel that the 21-year-old Moise Kean, loaned out to Juventus, may have been more use as cover. They do have a few bright young things, however. Premier League goalscorer Jarrad Branthwaite looks a decent prospect at the back, as does Lewis Dobbin up front. Plus, Anthony Gordon has been a breath of fresh air, particularly in an impressive 1-1 draw away at Chelsea this month.

 

11. Norwich
18 registered. 9 first-team U-21s (pffft… maybe 7.5 established, but for Norwich, so yeah.) Effective squad size: 27. Average age: 25.7.
1 postponement, 1 requested.

Well, they’ve certainly got a lot of youth. And, in fairness, some of it is pretty decent. There are Max Aarons and Brandon Williams at full-back, and Billy Gilmour in midfield; yet, the rest of their young guns are distinctly Championship-level. Adam Idah, Josh Sargeant, Christos Tzolis and Ozan Kabak have failed to impress, and whilst there are high hopes for Andrew Omobamidele, it may be too soon to expect too much. Barring catastrophe, they should be able to fulfil their fixtures without much of a drop in quality. The problem for the Canaries is where that level is to begin with.

 

10. Brentford
25 registered. 2 first-team U-21s (0.5 of whom established). Effective squad size: 27. Average age: 24.9.
2 postponements, 1 requested.

Unsurprisingly for a club without an academy, what you see is practically what you get in terms of the 25-man squad. And 25 really is the operative number here, with almost the entirety of their roster hovering around this age. They have a type, Brentford; or, put another way, a highly discernible recruitment policy. There is Mads Bidstrup getting some game-time from the Under-21s, and he looks a decent player in the modern Danish mould. Not yet what you would call established, however.

 

9. Tottenham
22 registered. 5 first-team U-21s (3 established). Effective squad size: 27. Average age: 25.6.
2 postponements, 1 requested.

Perhaps a little thinner than you might expect. Of the Under-21s, Bryan Gil and Oliver Skipp have featured more prominently, with the latter having appeared 22 times in what is fast becoming a genuine breakout season for him. Ryan Sessegnon, despite having only played six times, just about qualifies as established, whereas the other two are certainly not: Dane Scarlett and Nile John, who have both started Conference League ties. Given the fact that, despite Antonio Conte’s protestations, Spurs wanted out of that competition so badly that they simply decided not to turn up it feels slightly quaint to include them, but there we go. Take them out of the equation, however, and Spurs do seem a little vulnerable.

Oliver Skipp

8. Brighton
22 registered. 8 first-team U-21s (2 of whom established, sort of). Effective squad size: 30. Average age: 26.
2 postponements, both requested by opponent.

Thanks to a pretty liberal approach to the Carabao Cup, Brighton have a bucket-load of young bucks with toes dipped in the first-team bathwater. A few of them have only featured the once, in a 2-0 victory over Cardiff, but a number have made repeat appearances: Haydon Roberts, Taylor Richards, and Ecuador international Jeremy Sarmiento seem sure to get more game-time in the coming months. However, with Aaron Connolly struggling to impress this time out, and being linked with a loan move to the Championship, Tariq Lamptey will likely be their sole established Under-21 soon enough. Unless they make January signings, which they probably will.

 

7. Arsenal
21 registered. 5 first-team U-21s (4 of whom established). Effective squad size: 26. Average age: 25.3.
1 postponement, requested by opponent.

Fairly good, with the potential to get better. With Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Nuno Tavares listed in their Under-21s, each of whom have played at least 17 games this term, Arsenal’s squad is in decent nick. Whilst they only have 21 players registered, Mikel Arteta’s noises this week about January signings mean they should slip nicely into gaps that don’t need to be fashioned. Plus, the fifth Under-21 player is the much-hyped Florian Balogun: not a bad back-up striking option by any stretch, should he be required.

 

6. Chelsea
25 registered players. 1 first-team U-21 (1 established). Effective squad size: 26. Average age: 27.
0 postponements.

A (slightly) cautionary tale on the farming of younglings. Woe betide us to criticise a youth system that has cultivated such generational talents as Mason Mount and Reece James in recent years – let alone the tens of millions yielded in transfer fees this summer alone – but Chelsea’s policy of loaning out developing players does seem to have left them short-handed right now. With Ethan Ampadu, Armando Broja, Billy Gilmour, and the irrepressible Conor Gallagher all elsewhere, the thinly-stretched squad that Thomas Tuchel keeps bemoaning could have been an awful lot denser. What’s more, with Mount, James, Chalobah and Havertz all 22 and therefore needing to be registered, clinging onto a couple of those who did not might have been a sensible move. In addition to the shipping out of Gallagher and Gilmour, the sale of 19-year-old Tino Livramento to Southampton – and for peanuts – really does look quite silly, in hindsight. Still, with the quality that is packed into the 26, and with the likes of Jude Soonsup-Bell and Harvey Vale shining against Brentford in the Carabao Cup last week, they’ll probably be alright.

 

 

5. Leicester
25 registered. 2 first-team U-21s (1 established). Effective squad size: 27. Average age: 27.2.
2 postponements, both requested.

Another side ravaged by injuries, but as their herculean victory against Liverpool demonstrated, one that is able to cope. Just. From watching Leicester, it feels somewhat counter-intuitive that they should have so few Under-21s – only Luke Thomas, who looks increasingly comfortable as a Premier League left-back, and Vontae Daley-Campbell, who has made one start in the Carabao Cup. And that’s because 13 of their grown-up 25 qualify as home-grown players, with five of them aged between 22 and 24. There is also 21-year-old Wesley Fofana, who is not included in this list on account of his double leg-break in pre-season, but could potentially feature later on in the campaign.

 

4. West Ham
25 registered. 6 first-team U-21s (1 established). Effective squad: 31. Average age: 29.
1 postponement, requested by opposition.

Really quite good, if not quite as good as it looks. Of the six youth players considered part of the first-team, three of them have only played once: Aji Alese, Jamal Baptiste and Emmanuel Longelo started at the back for the Irons in their Europa League dead-rubber against Dinamo Zagreb. Whilst this really shouldn’t count, it wasn’t a sub appearance, so it does. The rules are the rules, man. Aside from them, Sonny Perkins and Harrison Ashby are lurking there-or-thereabouts, and Ben Johnson has featured fourteen times at full-back. No, not that one. Yes, he’s clean. Et cetera.

3. Liverpool
24 registered. 7 first team U-21s (3 half-established). Effective squad size: 31. Average age: 27.3.
1 postponement, requested by opposition.

Whatever Jurgen Klopp reckons, with the likes of Curtis Jones, Neco Williams, and Harvey Elliott – who is miraculously expected back from injury in the new year – in their ranks, Liverpool should be just fine. Add to that a smattering of other youngsters to have started Carabao Cup games, and Tyler Morton – who, despite feeling like he came from absolutely nowhere to start against Spurs, has actually featured seven times this season – and Klopp’s squad starts to look a little bloated. Even if four of them weren’t even born when James Milner made his Premier League debut.

 

2. Crystal Palace
25 registered. 4 first-team U-21s (3 established). Effective squad size: 29. Average age: 27.7.
1 postponement, requested by opponent.

Bearing in mind ten players left Palace on a free in the summer, and only five over-21-year-old signings were made to replace them, it really is remarkable that they have managed to end up with such a well-rounded squad. With their average age down from about 45 under Roy Hodgson, and Under-21s such as Conor Gallagher, Marc Guehi and the supremely-talented Michael Olise all playing vital roles this term, the Eagles are one of the most balanced, Covid-ready clubs in the land. Quite the turnaround by any estimation, and credit must go to Steve Parish and his board.

 

1. Manchester United
25 registered. 4 first-team U-21s (2 established). Effective squad size: 29. Average age: 28.
2 postponements, 2 requested.

Simply put, United really should be able to fulfil their fixtures. Whilst it would be remiss not to mention that one of their 25 is Phil Jones, they really do have enough depth, with the likes of Amad Diallo and Anthony Elanga tipped for great things, and Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho having already achieved them. Plus, as ever with United, there is a whole host of sparkling talents waiting in the wings, begging to be given the chance. If United are going to be calling more games off, questions really need to start being asked.

Ed Capstick – follow him on Twitter

More Related Articles