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Is the Premier League fixture list too congested?


Alex Lynch writes about the need to do away with the winter pile up of fixtures, and the problems this congestion causes.


Anyone who is a fan of English Football, from the Premier League to the third division, has a strong opinion on Sam Allardyce. For better or for worse, Big Sam’s consistent banter makes him a well known figure in England. He says what he wants to say,  and sometimes he’s right, sometimes he’s wrong. On this occasion, Big Sam’s latest statements to the press are something everyone should be aware of, because Big Sam is right. Allardyce was quoted as saying that the PL’s winter fixture list was “diabolical” and it shows that the league “doesn’t respect the FA cup”. He finally said that the midweek PL fixture after the FA cup game was “a stupid fixture” that  “they don’t bloody need to” have the Premier League in the middle of the week after the FA cup. Sam’s comments are certainly what has been on the mind of Premier League fans and managers in recent seasons. Every other league, from the La Liga to Ligue 1, has multiple weeks off in the winter. Why not the Premier League?

Allardyce 2016

 

The Premier League does exactly the opposite of the others, and piles on the fixtures during the winter period. During the winter, the Premier League, FA cup, and league cup are taking place at the same time. The league does this to garner worldwide attention, which would seemingly make the league more attractive to players. The fixture overload makes for a hectic winter schedule that often leads to injuries, and many poor performances. As a result of the injuries and poor performance, the fixture list has been getting condemned by pundits and managers such as Allardyce. The main example of the what the fixture congestion can do to a side  is Liverpool. The Reds had 4 games in 9 days between December 30th and January 9th. Liverpool had 2 Premier league games, a league cup tie, and an FA cup tie. Three of these fixtures were away , meaning Liverpool had to travel all around the country. And now, Liverpool has a gruesome injury list. With Martin Skrtel, Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge (of course), Dejan Lovren, Divock Origi and others all injured at the time of this writing. As a result, the fixture list ended up ruining the quality of the games not only for Liverpool, but for everyone else as well. Liverpool were forced to play their youth players in the FA cup game they had, which is something that is bad for the competition. Liverpool rested most of their stars in the league cup game as well, something that turns what is a semi final, into a shockingly low quality match. Just like Allardyce said, the FA cup was ruined (along with the league cup), and the fixtures looked stupid. It’s stupid to have the games played if none of the feature players can play.

Liverpool however weren’t the only club whose matches were ruined by the fixture list. Leicester played Spurs in the FA cup two days after Liverpool’s FA cup tie.  It was a game that should be filled with stars, wasn’t. The fixture list forced Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli to the bench. These 5 players are some of the best and most talented players in English Football, and they made the fixture look very compelling. But being forced to rest these players ruins the quality of the FA cup. Leicester and Spurs ended up using those stars and will have to conserve them in the coming weeks as well because they drew. The draw results in another crippling but very important fixture for both sides.  This was the case for Arsenal as well. They had to rest Mesut Ozil, Nacho Monreal and a host of others against Sunderland. While Allardyce and Sunderland also rested their top players in the same FA cup tie. In that game, there were a combined 11 changes from the previous Premier League weekend’s starting elevens. This made what was a competitive Premier League fixture, with Sunderland giving Arsenal allowed that they’ve got, into an easy 3-1 Arsenal win. The FA cup should replicate the Premier League, but instead it’s becoming a mere inconvenience for the top and bottom sides.

While the FA cup was tarnished because of the fixtures, the next question is, do these games hurt the Premier League? The answer is a resounding yes. Allardyce called the overload of fixtures “stupid, and he’s right. In what was an important Premier League weekend on Jan 2,  it was also the last of the festive period for a few days. With the title race heating up, and Sunderland hosting Villa in a crucial bottom tier clash, what should’ve been a great day ended up being a disappointing one. Every side in the league looked tired and not into it all at the same time. As a result, only one goal was scored at half time in the entire Premier League! That’s something that’s rarely happens is any league, and for that to happen in the Premier League, is a clear indicator of the problems with the fixture list. Ironically enough, the one goal was scored by Allardyce’s Sunderland, who are one of the league’s bottom sides. No one wants to spend the end of the holidays watching their favorite team play tired and uninspired. But that’s clearly what happened. The top teams all played badly, with Arsenal luckily beating Newcastle, Leicester dropping points, Liverpool losing, and United and City getting fortunate wins as well. Having all of these low quality games with everyone around the world watching is bad for the league and it’s image. For a foreigner watching for the first time, i’m sure they wouldn’t tune in again for some time. All of this is going on while other clubs around the world are going abroad to train and preparing for the second half of the season. The break that the other leagues  have make them have better fitness, and as a result, they’ve done better than the English clubs in Europe. English clubs struggles in Europe not only hurt the big clubs and prevent them from keeping tabs with the other big clubs, but they make it hard to keep big name players. The CL failures are terrible for the Premier League’s image, and makes it less attractive to big name players. People around the world have condemned the league’s fixture list, including Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. His views were similar to Allardyce on the issue, as he said that “players are squeezed there, like a lemon”. These views can drive star players and managers away from the league. Jurgen Klopp has already warned Pep Guardiola about the league’s high amount of games, by saying that he’ll need around 30 players. This then brings up the question, why have all of this money in the league with potentially nothing to spend it on? The image has been tarnished so much, that fans of other leagues questioning the Premier League’s quality as well.

The final part of Big Sam’s comments were that the league didn’t need to have the overload of fixtures that they currently employ. Allardyce, once again is right. The overload of fixtures isn’t something that the Premier League needs to have. The other leagues are doing just fine even though they have a winter break. While the foreign leagues also use the break to brand their players and their clubs. For example, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke have been in the U.S. during the winter break. This has helped brand both clubs, helped them make money, and give their marketable players exposure. While the Premier league doesn’t need to do too much branding, it would certainly help to go abroad twice during a year instead of once (during preseason). The clubs would make money from the increased merchandising, and from the games they would play against the local teams from abroad. They would be able to do all of this while resting the players, and increasing the entertainment value of the Premier League. That is a situation that will benefit everyone involved. And when you think about the league having a break, this doesn’t mean it has to be a 5 week break like the Bundesliga or an even longer break like the Russian League. The break can be like the La Liga’s break, only around two and a half weeks off, before you get back to the games. The break would almost feel like an international break. What’s not to like about that?

While the Premier League will continue to pile on the games during the winter break, the criticism and clear impact on the players is noticeable. English clubs are struggling mitily in the Champions League and the Europa League, the FA and League cups are being tarnished and sacrificed. The injury list for every side is gruesome, and it’s scaring off foreign players and managers rapidly. While it will take time for the Premier League to make a change, Watke and most of all Allardyce’ comments should serve as not only a warning to the league, but they should send a resounding message as well.


Written by Alex Lynch

Alex Lynch

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