The standard narrative is that international breaks are an unnecessary disruption where players get hurt and clubs suffer. But is that really the case?
The short answer is: it depends. Liverpool were worse after the international breaks in the previous two seasons, had the same record before and after in 2008-09, and were actually better in 2007-08. The overall record over the last four seasons is 12W-4D-4L before and 10W-6D-4L after – a difference of just 0.2 points per game.
In just the previous two seasons – with a smaller, less talented squad (and a smaller, less talented manager for the first half of last season) – the difference is larger; Liverpool were 0.78 points per game worse after those international breaks. With a stronger, deeper squad thanks to Dalglish, Comolli, and FSG, that should be less of an issue. We've seen Liverpool far better able to cope with injuries over the last few months.
To narrow it down further, results haven't changed much after international breaks which come early in the season over the last four campaigns. Players are fitter, happier. Liverpool usually have the numbers to cope with any unfortunate injuries. It's the breaks later in the season where results are noticeably worse.
International breaks in February and March almost always see Liverpool drop points in the next match; it's happened after five of the seven post-New Year breaks since 2007. For example, the side had no business drawing Wigan at Anfield or losing to West Brom away after the two breaks under Dalglish last season.
Each February break has seen a draw follow a win, no matter the opposition – whether it's Wigan at home or Chelsea away. And Liverpool went from wins prior to the break (over Blackburn and Sunderland) to losses after (to Wigan and West Brom) following the last two March international breaks.
In addition, Liverpool have rarely faced top competition following an international break. They've met a "top four" club after an international match twice: beating United in September 2008 and drawing Chelsea in February 2008. Everton is a frequent opponent – a loss last October, and two wins over the Blues in 2007-08 – but otherwise, Liverpool often play a mid-to-lower table side. The type of side which doesn't usually have a lot of players away with their countries.
Unsurprisingly, the largest correlation is whether the match is home or away. As if that's a new phenomenon. Liverpool's record at Anfield after international breaks over the last four seasons is 6W-3D. Liverpool's away record after international breaks is 4W-3D-4L. And three of those four away wins came in '07-08; Liverpool's last away win after an international break was the 1-0 win over Fulham in April 2009, following the March break. Since then, over the last two seasons, Liverpool's away record after internationals is four losses and one draw. Which is even worse than Liverpool's usually atrocious away record.
And which piles slightly more uncertainty upon the small matter of a trip to Stoke, one of the toughest venues in the league, this Saturday.
The full list of matches is in the comments section.