It’s no secret that many Premier League sides have gruelling schedules, especially top teams who seem to be continuously competing for trophies. While sometimes it feels like a great ride, there is an evil lurking beneath that rears its ugly head. As I was sitting in front of my idiot box (tv) last night catching up on some matches from last weekend, I considered the hectic schedule that Arsenal goes through consistently (as do some others) and then noticed my pint glass, which runneth 3/4 empty.
Consider that some teams in top flight English football compete for the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, Capital One Cup and a host of other invitational trophies over the course of the season. While the Premier League schedule is enough for many teams who are not deep enough to field quality sides in other competitions, they are still expected to compete in other competitions. While from a fan’s perspective it may at first seem like a good idea because after all it means more footy for us to watch, in reality it is anything but.
Before we get into what irks me most about the schedule, consider these facts:
- Every team in the Premier League has at least six matches from Dec 1 – Jan 1
- Teams that have Champions League competition have more
- Chelsea, for instance, have nine matches in that same time period as a result of Captial One Cup and Club World Cup (played the other day in Japan)
- Starting on Dec 22, Premier League clubs are subjected to four matches in a matter of just 11 days
Consider how difficult that stretch is, and then compare that to other leagues like Serie A and La Liga. In both of those leagues, teams will have two full weeks off in that same period that EPL sides play four matches! German teams in Bundesliga have an even greater break, as the league stops for better than a month. So, you can see why people, not just me, are so upset with the daunting, asinine schedule in England, right?
There are two factors at work here that cause particular problems from playing too much football – watered down line-ups and an increase in injury, both at the club level and for the national side.
As managers try and juggle all these matches, they are faced with very serious issues in who to start and who to sit. As such, managers have developed very different opinions as to how to set their line-ups. Some, like at Chelsea, have been playing their starting XI an incredible amount in all competitions much to the dissatisfaction of some of their own fans. During a busy stretch in November that had Chelsea play back to back matches against Manchester United, they played some of their star players for an entire two matches, one of which went 120 minutes. It is very likely that the over-playing of these players may have instigated the recent string of poor results for the club.
Other managers have had a different approach, as they regularly rest players. The problem is that we don’t get to see the best line-up a team can field on a regular basis. Therefore, we can say the schedule has robbed us of seeing the highest quality of football because managers have no choice but to rest players. Certainly we can’t fault managers who rest their players regularly, but we can’t ignore that it has resulted in watered-down football.
The other option managers have is to choose one competition to focus on. For instance, Manchester City have not been shy in saying that they want most to win the Premier League trophy. The rationale is that they will go 100% for their EPL matches, but not give as much to other competitions. This gives a distinct advantage because as I said other teams are not fielding their best starting XI. Conversely, the problem in this line of thinking is that it’s putting all your eggs in one basket. If Manchester United (or someone else, though not likely) take the Premier League crown, City have left themselves without other options.
The other problem with having a ridiculously busy schedule is an increase in injuries both at the club and national team level. Football players, because of the physical demands put on them over the course of a game, need a lot of rest to heal. Every time you shorten the time reserved for recuperation you run a greater risk of injury. As a result, we have seen a rise in reported injuries and an increase in the average recovery time.
So is the answer to follow the lead of the other big leagues from around Europe? Possibly. There is little Arsene Wenger, Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini agree on (talk about an understatement). But one thing they do agree on is that there should be a break in the schedule as their teams very after year have to endure a particularly difficult schedule. But there are other solutions, one which I like even better.
For me the most logical way around this is to scrap the Capital One Cup (formerly Carling Cup), at least as it operates now. Either get rid of it all together, or at the very least have it open to teams that are not competing in Champions League or Europa League play. This will still give those weaker teams a trophy they can strive for, while affording a bit of a break for the teams that play in the UEFA tournaments.
Despite the fact that the majority I reckon are of the opinion that there is way too much football being played, I am pessimistic that anything will be done. First, the FA, as you already know, are as slow as molasses to make any decisions (and the bigger the decision the slower they move). Also, the money generated from playing those games and for those trophies is far too lucrative to pass up.
Not only is my pint running 3/4 empty on the grueling schedule, it is almost completely dry regarding that FA – but that is a different rant entirely.
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