In 14 of their 24 Premier League games so far this season, a Southampton player has needed treatment from a physio between the 60th and 70th minute after going down with an injury.
The English top-flight is a physical competition and players frequently pick up knocks. However, there’s no denying the pattern behind the timing of these breaks in play.
Now, research carried out by The Athletic, indicates that the stoppages are likely part of a wider tactical plan, as opposed to a curious coincidence.
Each time a member of the Saints’ medical staff is called on to the field of play, Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl has the opportunity to gather his troops on the touchline.
Not only do these brief intervals allow for tactical instruction to be passed on, but players can often be spotted consuming energy gels and drinks during their spell on the sideline.
The high-intensity nature of top-tier football makes it inevitable that performance levels will drop somewhat as matches progress into their latter stages.
Are the frequent injuries that occur around the 60th minute of Southampton games the team’s way of counteracting this dip?
Phil Hayward, an elite sports physiotherapist who headed up the Wolves medical department until 2020, confirmed the effectiveness of the practice from a medical standpoint.
“They will be taking on energy gels, which contains maltodextrin (a form of carbohydrate) and gets into the bloodstream pretty quickly,” he told The Athletic. “You would start to see a response in around 10 minutes.
“The reason for the gels is that they are more concentrated, and to get that level of maltodextrin through a liquid, you would have to drink quite a lot. In terms of performance, it is more about their endurance capabilities and allowing them to maintain their energy levels until the end of the game.
“When I was at Wolves, the majority of lads would have the gels at half-time as a matter of course, but then some of the players who tended to feel depleted towards the end of the match would consume them during the second half.”
There is, though, a significant difference between a few players taking on energy-boosting products when needed and a pre-determined plan to secure a stoppage in play.
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Which Southampton players go down most often?
Part of the case for Southampton’s second-half injury woes being premeditated is that it tends to be their attacking players who hit the deck most often.
Striker Adam Armstrong required treatment between the 62nd and 70th minute in three straight games earlier this season. Fellow frontman Che Adams is another who has apparently been injured on multiple occasions this season in a similar timeframe.
Tellingly, these consultations with the physio rarely result in a substitution.
While their teammates are taking on board energy gels on the touchline, the player receiving treatment will typically consume theirs while chatting with the medic.
When haven’t Southampton players required treatment in the time period?
As the overall statistics show, the break in play hasn’t occurred in every Saints game this term.
For example, when 4-0 down to Liverpool on the hour mark at Anfield back in November, no Southampton player required any treatment.
Cynics would point out that this is because the game was already out of Hasenhuttl’s side’s reach – and no amount of energy gel or tactical wisdom was going to change that.
In addition, there have rarely been any stoppages for injury if Southampton have either scored or conceded a goal between the 60th and 70th minute – another sign which points to the breaks being centrally coordinated.
Southampton’s stars only seem to seek medical intervention when a pause in play will actively benefit the team.
Has the practice worked for Southampton this season?
Well, yes and no. The south-coast outfit have scored nine times after the 60-minute mark this term. However, they’ve also conceded 14 in the same time period.
Hayward dismisses Southampton’s poor defensive numbers in the final third of games as a “coincidence”, but it’s hardly a positive sign.
Are Southampton doing anything wrong?
If indeed Southampton are deliberately having their players go down at a set time, then it’s obviously morally questionable. That said, Hayward doesn’t believe the other Premier League sides should get upset about it.
Instead, he encouraged them to learn from the situation.
“It is about being creative and doing what you can within the rules. They aren’t doing anything wrong because the player has the right to have the physio come on and take a look at a potential injury.
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“If I was at a team and I saw it happen, I would probably think it’s a great idea, let’s do it ourselves. Fair play to them.
“Rather than complain, you are better off learning from it and trying to replicate it.”
In a league when the smallest advantage can make a big difference, Southampton certainly look to have turned the rules to their benefit this season.