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This transfer window has been one of extremes, from the extensive remodelling of Manchester City’s squad being carried out by Pep Guardiola to the frustrating lack of progress at Arsenal. But just how much change is healthy at a top-flight club? We’ve analysed the turnover of players at every club in the “big five” European leagues over the last decade to work out the optimum level of transfer activity.
How much do squads typically change?
First of all, let’s set a baseline. Across the Premier League, LaLiga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 in the last decade, the average club gave 28.8% of their league starts to new recruits; not much more than a quarter. If we define a first-team regular as a player who starts at least half of their team’s league games, the average clubs signed 2.7 new first-team players per season.
Interestingly, when we cut this by league we find that Premier League squads are actually the most stable, with just 25.7% of starts going to new players and an average of just 2.5 new first-team regulars per season. For all the money spent by the English top-flight clubs, their line-ups change less drastically than those in Spain or Italy, who hand over 30% of starts to new players on average and blood three new first-team regulars a year.
More successful teams change less …
It may not surprise you to learn that the higher a team finishes in the league table, the fewer changes they tend to make to their line-up the following season. Clubs securing a Champions League place introduce just over two new first-team regulars per campaign while for mid-table sides the number is nearer three and promoted teams add almost four.
… but top clubs who keep the faith usually go backwards
However, when we focus on clubs who finished in the Champions League spots, those who improved their points haul the following season tended to be busier in the transfer market. Overall, those who won more points added an average of 2.4 first team regulars compared to just 1.8 among clubs who went backwards. This makes sense given the intense competition for a seat at Europe’s top table. Others will be investing in their squads and there are always improvements to be made, so resting on your laurels isn’t a viable strategy.
When we look at the 20 clubs to have changed their squads the least after a Champions League finish in the last decade, the pattern is even more stark. Only four of them saw their points total improve the following year, compared to 16 whose tally fell.
Squad remodelling usually ends well
Overall we see a clear pattern that boldness pays off more often than caution in the transfer market. Clubs who keep the faith with their previous squad – adding one first-team player at most – only record a higher league finish around a quarter of the time and the more players you add, the greater your chances of rising further up the table.
Manchester City have seen the highest player turnover of the Premier League’s six biggest clubs over the last decade and that trend has continued this season with a string of additions, so the data suggests that an improvement on last season’s third place is on the cards. Meanwhile a typically quiet summer for Arsenal – who have added only two players – could presage another frustrating campaign for the Gunners faithful.
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