Does the winter break in football help teams play better in the Champions League?

The idea of having the winter break in English football divides opinion. When major leagues across Europe are taking long breaks in winter, the English Premier League remains in full flow with congested fixtures that has become a part of the country's tradition.

Not only do the clubs play their traditional fixture on Boxing Day, they also play twice in the space of a few days either side of New Year's Eve. By the time Europe’s other top-five leagues get underway, Premier League clubs would have played at least five to six games more.

Of all the major European leagues, German football enjoys the benefit of having long winter breaks the most, with the players and the managers taking a long hiatus of around 30 days from competitive football. Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga usually take a two-week break. This year, Ligue 1 has the second-longest break with 24 days. Also, for the first time in a decade, the Scottish Premier League has taken a four-week break from New Year's Eve to late January.

During this time, big European clubs often travel to hotter countries like Dubai, Qatar, Turkey or Middle East to enjoy the warm climate and engage in light training to keep their players fresh. The central logic behind having the winter break is to allow players to rest and recuperate for the second half of the season.

However, these trips are more about money making and marketing than anything else. In 2015, Bayern Munich flew to Doha, on a trip that was much about business than it was about training. The same can be said about Real Madrid, who spent part of their short Christmas break in Dubai and played an exhibition match against AC Milan.

And therein lies the major question – are there any long term benefits?

The debate has gained momentum in recent years especially after England’s series of poor performances in major competitions, and conversely the success of teams like Germany, Italy and Spain.

The common belief is that players from English clubs enter major tournaments in a poor physical condition (since they don’t get enough breaks) after their long involvement in club football throughout the season.

Comparatively, players from Germany, Italy and Spain remain fresh and fitter and therefore can run the extra mile, leading to their international success.

However, whether the winter break makes a huge difference to a team performing well in the Champions League is a matter of debate. In fact, it hardly makes any difference.

Bayern Munich have reached three finals in the last seven years, but only four times in the last 16 years. In theory, they should have done better than this. It is not like they have only started taking breaks in recent years or planning trips to hotter countries out of curiosity.

Similarly, the winter break has little role to play in Real Madrid’s success under Zinedine Zidane. Had that been the case, why did the club fail to reach a single final from 2001-2014?

How would one explain Premier League clubs’ dominance in Europe from 2004-05 to 2011-12 from the perspective of winter breaks, when a Premier League club made it to the finals eight times? In the knockout rounds, a lot of factors come into play irrespective of having fitter players around, such as the away goal rule, penalty shootouts, and many others. Sometimes, a bit of luck as well.

The Premier League clubs have struggled in Europe in the last five years and according to the latest Champions League and Europa League betting here, there are still not favourites to win either competition despite hosting some of the top coaches and players in the world. There are many more logical reasons behind it which explain their sudden downfall.

The financial boost in the Premier League has meant there is no longer a traditional big-four. Smaller teams are now more than capable of causing an upset – Leicester City’s title triumph comes to mind. Unlike other European leagues, where big clubs get to sign top players and make a strong team, here in the Premier League, smaller clubs are making strong squads capable of challenging the heavyweight clubs.

Plus, major European powerhouses like Manchester United, Liverpool and to a certain extent Chelsea are going through a transition phase, while clubs like Manchester City and Tottenham do not have Champions League pedigree as yet.

It will be really beneficial for the players if the Premier League can introduce the winter break. Every manager wants to have a fit squad with him, but to what extent the winter break is responsible for their performance in Europe is debatable. The sample study isn’t big enough to make a solid conclusion, as yet.