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England boss Gareth Southgate faces BURNOUT and fitness fears over his stars ahead of World Cup

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The games are coming thick and fast and, just like club managers up and down the country, Gareth Southgate will be watching the coming months unfold nervously with the health and fitness of his players in mind.

With less than a year to go to the World Cup, Southgate is facing burnout and fitness fears over some of his England stars.

The Three Lions’ last get-together was disrupted by so many dropouts due to knocks, niggles and bouts of illness that England could only name eight subs, including two goalkeepers, against San Marino rather than the maximum 12.

England boss Gareth Southgate is facing burnout and fitness fears over his England stars

England boss Gareth Southgate is facing burnout and fitness fears over his England stars 

Chelsea's Ben Chilwell has suffered a knee injury which could rule him out for the season

Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell has suffered a knee injury which could rule him out for the season

Since then and returning to club duty Chelsea left back Ben Chilwell has suffered a serious knee injury which, if surgery is required in the New Year, will rule him out for the rest of the season.

Arsenal’s heavily-used Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have also been among the players across the Premier League to succumb to injuries in the last fortnight too, while Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips has since picked up long-term hamstring problem and Manchester City’s Phil Foden was forced off in the 45th minute with another ankle problem against Leipzig on Tuesday. 

And that is before the season really starts to go into overdrive with the upcoming hectic festive period.

Some of England’s players are understood to be privately concerned about their workloads with what is to come in 12 months, making their situations ones to watch carefully for their managers.

Knowing their bodies, the worry is that if their game time is not carefully managed, injury is eventually almost inevitable, even if trauma or impact blows like Chilwell’s cannot be predicted.

The concerns, for those who harbour them, come with good reason.

Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have succumbed to injuries in the last fortnight

Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have succumbed to injuries in the last fortnight

England captain Harry Kane and fellow squad regulars Harry Maguire, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Conor Coady and Saka are among the five most used players by their Premier League clubs this season.

New boy Emile Smith Rowe is also in that group and has racked up the most minutes at Arsenal and Conor Gallagher is in Crystal Palace’ top five too.

Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham and West Brom’s Sam Johnstone have all played even more club football than their Premier League-based counterparts while, in England’s top flight, only Rice (1679 minutes) and Kane (1615) have played more than Tammy Abraham (1581) has for Roma.

Potential hopefuls Ben White, Ezri Konsa, Matt Targett, Marc Guehi, Tyrick Mitchell, Michael Keane, Oliver Skipp, Aaron Creswell, Jarrod Bowen and Max Kilman also make their clubs’ top five most-used along with goalkeepers Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope.

They have all clocked up at least 1170 minutes for their clubs this season.

Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham has played more club football than Premier League stars

Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham has played more club football than Premier League stars

Of the 27 players in Southgate’s plans for the most recent double header against Albania and San Marino only John Stones (661) and Marcus Rashford (565) have yet to break the 1000 minutes barrier.

Among Southgate’s options are some players who might be considered old school in their attitudes – ones who hate missing games, will always make themselves available and even defy injury to play.

But just as valid are the concerns of those who are worried about being run into the ground.

Some leave no stone unturned to limit the damage caused by the demands of playing for club and country with the way they lead their lives off the pitch.

There are concerns of English players being run into the ground ahead of the 2022 World Cup

There are concerns of English players being run into the ground ahead of the 2022 World Cup 

Personal fitness coaches to help with their recovery and chefs to provide ideal nutrition are well used by England’s players.

One player turned down a lucrative commercial opportunity so he could squeeze in a physio appointment instead in order to maintain his condition following a gruelling recent accumulation of minutes.

Somehow, a balance needs to be found.

Colin Lewin, director/physiotherapist at the Lewin Sports Injury Clinic which he runs alongside cousin Gary Lewin, the ex-Arsenal and England physio, said: ‘You don’t want to take a player to a World Cup who’s played four times for his club that year. The uneducated people would think, “oh he must be nice and fresh, ready to go” but he won’t be as fit as he could be.

Gary Lewin (left) used to be the lead physio for both Arsenal and the England national team

Gary Lewin (left) used to be the lead physio for both Arsenal and the England national team 

‘He won’t have his confidence, his form and everything else from playing many games but not too many.

‘I’m not sure if anyone out there will be able to give you an ideal number of minutes going into a World Cup. The sweet spot is having played enough games to be at a peak level of fitness, confidence and form but not having played too many that fatigue is playing a part.

‘It is not always the case but muscular injuries and things like that would indicate a level of overload probably.

‘A player not being at their best physically, or sometimes underperforming on their physical stats, or their performance stats, will give you an idea that something isn’t quite right.

Harry Kane has played 1615 minutes for Tottenham - the most of any Spurs player this season

Harry Kane has played 1615 minutes for Tottenham – the most of any Spurs player this season

ARE ENGLAND PLAYERS AT RISK OF BURN OUT?  

Declan Rice – 1679 mins  

Harry Kane – 1615 mins 

Conor Coady – 1518 mins 

Harry Maguire – 1485 mins  

Conor Gallagher – 1291 mins  

Kalvin Phillips – 1270 mins 

James Ward-Prowse – 1262 mins 

Jordan Pickford – 1260 mins

Emile Smith Rowe – 1244 mins

Tyrone Mings – 1208 mins 

Bukayo Saka – 1170 mins 

TOTAL MINUTES PLAYED

Out of players who are in the top-5 for most minutes played for their clubs 

‘It’s a difficult balance between overloading a player and underpreparing them. Muscle injuries often happen when a player is underprepared for the match. If they haven’t trained in the few weeks leading up to the game, they’re underprepared for that game.

‘I can see why some people would think, “they’re fresh” but that can be just as dangerous as overloading them sometimes when it comes to injury occurrence.’

This season’s build-up of minutes comes off the back of a punishing few years for players.

That will continue next season which will start earlier, following a short summer again, to accommodate the Qatar World Cup being squeezed into the middle of the domestic campaign.

‘For them to go straight from Premier League football into a World Cup tournament I don’t think is particularly unreasonable, because then they’re in the groove,’ explained the experienced Lewin, who worked at Arsenal for 23 years, the last 10 as head of medical services.

‘What I think players will also say is that the mental break was sometimes just as important in the summer as the physical break.’

Conversations between all involved will be key to ensuring that, when it comes to the physical element of their wellbeing, players remain on the right side of the line for club and country.

West Ham's Declan Rice has played the most minutes of any England regular so far this season

West Ham’s Declan Rice has played the most minutes of any England regular so far this season

The England squad will enter a major tournament in the middle of next season for Qatar 2022

The England squad will enter a major tournament in the middle of next season for Qatar 2022

‘The most important thing is the people skills,’ said Lewin. ‘You can get as many data points as you’d like but you learn so much more from chatting to players and managers, having open conversations.

‘A strength and conditioning coach, fitness coach, physio, doctor, manager and player sitting down and discussing the players’ availability for an upcoming important game with the data on board as an education tool for everyone I think is the best way of doing it.

‘I’m not saying for one second, you ignore the data. I’m not saying for one second you base your decision on the data. But it’s an added piece of education in the background, assuming it’s valid and reliable.

‘It’s a decision for everyone to make. And these things happen for most games at most clubs.

Captain Kane has played the second most minutes out of all the England regulars this season

Captain Kane has played the second most minutes out of all the England regulars this season

‘This isn’t just a World Cup based decision. Every week, these chats and communications will be going on.

‘When it comes to real red flags, sometimes you have to stamp your feet a little bit and I think the vast majority of managers and players would listen then.

‘But if the manager and the player decide it’s worth the risk of them playing on the Saturday in that important game, the medical and fitness take a back seat. We’re there to inform, not to pick the team!’

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