Michael Cox: The Prem needs serious fixture reform

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Post by BarrileteCosmico Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:44 pm

It is impossible to determine whether fatigue was a contributing factor in the serious knee injury suffered by Arsenal forward Theo Walcott, which will keep him out for the remainder of the Premier League season, as well as the World Cup.

However, the statistics are clear -- Walcott was playing his fifth game in the space of 13 days. It is a startlingly strenuous schedule, probably unmatched anywhere in top-flight European football at any point this season. Even at the upcoming World Cup, a tournament that notoriously features matches in quick succession and tests a player's fitness levels, there's only an outside chance that a player will compete in four matches in the space of 13 days -- let alone five.

Walcott's knee injury -- which didn’t initially appear to be serious, considering the smile on his face as he departed on a stretcher -- was the third separate injury he suffered in the Tottenham game. His manager, Arsene Wenger, is one of the most intelligent managers around, hailed upon his arrival in English football as a revolutionary physiologist. Perhaps he would have liked to rest Walcott, but this was an important north London derby and he had a striker shortage because both Olivier Giroud and Nicklas Bendtner had also collected injuries over the Christmas period, while Lukas Podolski was only just recovering.

Again, it's difficult for someone with no medical background to reasonably blame fatigue with any level of certainty. Nevertheless, it's worth recalling the opening chapter to the autobiography of Robert Pires, one of Walcott's predecessors as an Arsenal wide man and a player who suffered a similar knee injury back in 2001-02, his best campaign for the Gunners.

"There's always some physical or psychological explanation as to why [injuries] happen," Pires wrote. "This one came about because I had been careless. Maybe I was mentally fatigued ... I just wasn't concentrating. I must have been worn out by the endless run of games, the constant competition ... for injury, read tiredness." He goes onto complain, in some detail, about the physical strain upon players in English football.
Theo WalcottAllsportCould Theo Walcott's serious knee injury have been avoided if he wasn't playing so many competitive games over the holidays?


This is the worst time of year for the Premier League.

Statistics from the excellent analytics website StatsBomb prove that injuries have increased rapidly in recent weeks. Meanwhile, using data from the reliable injury source PhysioRoom, it appears around 25 percent of Premier League players are currently injured. Spurs, for example, have 11 players unavailable.

Ahead of a World Cup year, there are frequently calls for a winter break considering that England's chances are seemingly regularly harmed by fatigue. Successive England managers have complained about this issue, but isn't really the Premier League's problem; England are controlled by the Football Association, but the Premier League is an independent body.

It would indirectly help the Premier League as an organisation if England were world champions, but it’s not their responsibility. Their concern, instead, should be that the absurd run of matches over Christmas is harming the footballers and the spectacle of the Premier League. Or, to use an expression they might sympathise with more, it’s harming their "product."

The issue of a winter break won't go away, primarily because it won't happen any time soon, although Christmas football and a winter break aren't mutually exclusive. It seems logical, should England persist with Christmas football, to have a small break in early January. It would be a chance for players to rest, for managers to focus on the transfer window and for fans to take a breather at a time when money is tight.

If not, the Premier League needs to reduce the number of games over the Christmas period. Boxing Day matches are a great tradition, as are matches on New Year's Day. The matches in between, however, are superfluous. There is simply one too many matchday in this period -- games are extremely close together, and moving matches for television can mean one side having a crucial advantage in terms of preparation time. Injuries would surely be prevented if even one game was removed from this schedule.
AllsportAlan Pardew has been vocal in his displeasure at the festive-fixture congestion given the physical toll it can take on players.


The packed fixture list is nothing new, but the increased pace of football means that such a succession of games has become increasingly dangerous. Watch a Premier League game from just 15 years ago and the contest is entirely different -- it feels like a walking pace compared to matches from the modern era. Today players are faster, passing moves are faster, transitions are faster and tackles are faster. Less contact is allowed, but players still dive in to challenges with incredible force.

English football's overall problem is the insistence on a 20-team league along with two cup competitions. Should England persist with both the League Cup and the FA Cup -- and despite their decline in importance, that format remains preferable -- a move to an 18-team league, replicating the Bundesliga, is preferable.

It's been over a decade since Sepp Blatter proposed that national leagues should be cut to 16 teams, in order to give players more rest. Those moves were fiercely rejected by the leagues and in fact, the opposite has happened. Since then, Italy has expanded from 18 teams to 20. Portugal grew from 16 to 18.

This is one of Blatter's rare good ideas. Cutting two teams from the Premier League wouldn't be a particular loss -- there seems to be a particularly high number of poor sides this season, for a start -- while a reduction of four games would allow more rest over Christmas and around the time of the European knockout stages. It also seems ridiculous that at the end of January and the start of February, there are two midweek rounds in the space of three weeks.

No wonder managers are treating the FA Cup with less regard -- it's the only chance for them to rest players.

"I am not convinced the timing of this historic weekend is conducive to Premier League teams being at their best, with the nature of the Christmas fixture schedule placing unrealistic demands on the players," wrote Alan Pardew in his weekend programme notes for Newcastle's FA Cup defeat to Cardiff.

“Injuries and fatigue are a natural by-product of a fixture list which does not consider the welfare and safety of the players," he continued. "I'm sure both sides in this game will be making changes, because it's unrealistic to expect top players to continue to perform every three days."

Ultimately, such a busy fixture list plays into the hands of the big clubs with the biggest wage bills, and increases the demands upon the smaller clubs -- therefore, the inequality in the division increases.

Some managers, like Jose Mourinho, relish the packed schedule. "It's a period I like," he said recently. "We go into the Christmas period and the accumulation of matches is so high ... I like that very, very much. I enjoyed it when I was in England and I missed it when I was in Spain and Italy." Not every coach, though, can rotate his starting XI and bring Juan Mata, Willian and Samuel Eto'o into the side.
Shaun Botterill/Getty ImagesSepp Blatter's ideas about reducing fixture overload have been surprisingly sensible: trim league sizes to gently ease bloated schedules.


There persists a frustrating faction of English football supporters that insist footballers have no right to complain about their workload -- they're paid well enough, the reasoning goes, they should do their job. But the players are not complaining because they don't want to be playing football. They're complaining because they're unhappy at the elevated risk of injury.

Football is a sport that naturally embraces patience, one that doesn't follow the "more is better" approach. It's probably the lowest-scoring sport in the world; the point-scoring isn't frequent, but when it comes along, it's more meaningful. The same should apply to the number of matches.

It's not unreasonable to expect a fixture schedule that helps, rather than hinders, the standard of play. We should want the most talented footballers to be playing at their peak for the remainder of the season.

One of them, alas, won't be playing at all.

http://espnfc.com/blog/_/name/tacticsandanalysis/id/2445?cc=5901
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Post by Great Leader Sprucenuce Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:45 pm

Nah.
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Post by Art Morte Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:49 pm

Great Leader Sprucenuce wrote:Nah.
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Post by Lex Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:52 pm

Walcott's injury was a gigantic slice of bad luck, could have happened anywhere, anytime. I do agree about the fixture congestion, though, it's ridiculous this time round
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Post by BarrileteCosmico Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:54 pm

5 matches in 13 days becoming commonplace and 1/4 of all PL players injured, and all you guys have to say is 'nah'? I would think on the very least a winter break and getting rid of the CC would be fairly uncontroversial.
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Post by Arquitecto Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:55 pm

Mole & Arty you can continue to veto this prospect yet I do not see how you can ignore the ludicrous fixture list that is responsible for incurred fatigue that is responsible for a criminal series of injuries; directly a correlation of the fixtures.

It hinders the quality of football and can potentially cause damage to the footballer physique as very few are built to withstand such a gruelling schedule.

I suspect it has to do with the withdrawal symptoms you may be facing in the absence of football yet a greater dilemma is at hand.
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Post by Art Morte Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:59 pm

I agree it's a lot of games in a short period of time, but a few more injuries from fatigue - if that's the reason - is the price I'm willing to pay for Boxing Day and New Year's Day football. Having a lot of games makes the festive period around Christmas and New Year feel a bit more special for Premier League fans and I really enjoy that.
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Post by Pedram Wed Jan 08, 2014 7:03 pm

One domestic cup is enough, Capital One Cup is basically the FA Cup with 92 teams and some minor differences in rules.
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Post by Great Leader Sprucenuce Wed Jan 08, 2014 7:07 pm

Injuries happen.... deal with it.

I agree on CC mainly because two cups is unecessary.

But winter break should stay, its a tradition and despite popular belief isn't stopping us from winning something at a Major tournament.

What's stopping us winning at a major tournament is a lack of talent and coaching. We won a major tournament playing through Christmas before and we have got to numerous Semi's before also no one said anything then....

Also anything that Pardew is for i'm against.... the man is a moaner and just complains when things go against him.

Unrealistic demands? maybe the demands wouldn't be so unrealistic if you didn't play the same team 4 games straight and leave the likes of Cisse, Ben Arfa, Anita, Mbiwa, Haidara etc etc and so on minuteless.

We had a squad so use it.... man up pussy.

I'm quite frankly sick of hearing this excuse every damn year.



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Post by Jay29 Wed Jan 08, 2014 7:18 pm

Absolutely agree with Cox.

Most football fans here will not like the idea because so many games in a short period of time is fun and entertaining, but it's really not good for the players involved. The number of injuries are increasing and squads are having to rotate more and more which, in turn, effects the FA Cup, and if you're unfortunate enough to get some important matches during this period then this could seriously effect your entire season.

As said, though, it's not going to change because there's more concern about money than about the health of the players. You hear commentators on Sky and BT all the time say how great it is that we have so many games over the festive period, and that since all the players are athletes they don't need rest; it's all representative of the general attitude towards this idea.

It's not just the Premier League that suffers, either. In the lower leagues, they already play 46 games and in the Capital One Cup, FA Cup and Johnston's Paint Trophy. They have smaller squads, poorer facilities and end up having to play on terrible pitches during winter.

I like Cox's solution: keep the Boxing Day and New Year's Day fixtures, but remove the weekend games immediately after. That way you keep the tradition but don't congest the fixture list. If it sees a decrease in injuries than you might not even have to have a two week break.

I'd go further and get rid of the League Cup as well, since it's a redundant competition.

None of this has anything to do with the national team either. England will suck regardless of whether there's a break or not.

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Post by Lord Spencer Wed Jan 08, 2014 7:35 pm

Fact is, there are too much damn games in the EPL. They have the largest number of possible games in the year, and for a side that is not deep, it could be detrimental.

I think it increases the risk on the players and decreases the quality of play in the cups. IMP, the COC needs to be axed.
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Post by VendettaRed07 Wed Jan 08, 2014 7:37 pm

Serious fixture reform? Nah...l think there might be some truth to there could be some reform to a degree because of just how many injured players there are in the PL right now.. l remember RG saying something like 20%...

l know having a ridiculous amount of games around the holidays is fun.. But lt is the coldest time of year, and l think there are just too many in a short amount of time. Perhaps moving 2 or 3 back to later in the year would help a lot
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Post by DuringTheWar Wed Jan 08, 2014 11:48 pm

I agree and already mentioned in the past leagues should be reduced to 18 or even 16 teams. For me the extra 2 or 4 teams propping up the rest of the league is overkill anyway
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Post by rwo power Thu Jan 09, 2014 12:06 am

In Germany, we have winter sport on TV practically all day during winter, so the lack of football isn't really so obvious. Maybe something like this would be an idea for the people in England, too?
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Post by BeautifulGame Thu Jan 09, 2014 2:09 am

They could start the PL season early in August a week earlier and then give the 1st week in Jan (The FA cup 3rd week) as rest.

Thus you would have 10 days breaks at the least and 17 days(similar to winter break) for PL players who are rested in 3rd FA cup.Would help teams massively to allow players to recoup from the hectic festive period.

Agree though the Festive period or carling cup shouldnt be changed
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Post by The_Badger Thu Jan 09, 2014 2:57 am

People seem to forget there's a fair few top class foreign internationals playing in England and go through the same fixture schedule.

Fixture congestion is not the reason England have failed.

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Post by M99 Thu Jan 09, 2014 7:32 am

I've said this before, just abolish the Capital One Cup.
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Post by The_Badger Thu Jan 09, 2014 7:37 am

Why?

If teams have no desire to compete in it, then simply play a second string and go out. Why should it be abolished?

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Post by Lord Spencer Thu Jan 09, 2014 10:46 am

The_Badger wrote:Why?

If teams have no desire to compete in it, then simply play a second string and go out. Why should it be abolished?

Because it is a redundant insignificant cup!
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Post by Adit Thu Jan 09, 2014 1:37 pm

What is the point of carling cup/capital cup/poverty cup any way?

FA cup is there as a national cup competition.. they should demolish the 4th cup.
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Post by Art Morte Thu Jan 09, 2014 2:19 pm

I agree that the League Cup doesn't make sense.

Perhaps it could be for Football League only - i.e. League Two, One and the Championship - and the winner still got a Europa League place hmm
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Post by The_Badger Fri Jan 10, 2014 4:34 am

Lord Spencer wrote:
The_Badger wrote:Why?

If teams have no desire to compete in it, then simply play a second string and go out. Why should it be abolished?

Because it is a redundant insignificant cup!

To who exactly?

Tell that to the lower league one/two clubs that receive healthy financial reward for being drawn against a club like Man Utd or Chelsea.

If it was so insignificant, why when Arsenal failed to beat Birmingham is it considered a failure? Why is Man Utd's recent defeat considered a failure?

It's clearly not "redundant" as you so ignorantly put it when it granted Swansea a chance to play European football for the first time.

Football does exist outside of the big European clubs. Some people on here would do well to remember that.

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Post by The_Badger Fri Jan 10, 2014 4:37 am

Art Morte wrote:I agree that the League Cup doesn't make sense.

Perhaps it could be for Football League only - i.e. League Two, One and the Championship - and the winner still got a Europa League place hmm

It's the only piece of silverware your "great and magnificent" club has to its name in nearly eight years.

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Post by RedOranje Fri Jan 10, 2014 4:56 am

The_Badger wrote:
Art Morte wrote:I agree that the League Cup doesn't make sense.

Perhaps it could be for Football League only - i.e. League Two, One and the Championship - and the winner still got a Europa League place hmm

It's the only piece of silverware your "great and magnificent" club has to its name in nearly eight years.

What exactly are you quoting with the "great and magnificent" bit? And Art's made no secret of the fact that he wasn't really concerned about Liverpool's success in that competition when LFC won it... he was much more concerned with the FA Cup and improvement in the league.
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Post by BarcaLearning Fri Jan 10, 2014 5:43 am

Todays world and the PL especially is focused on money. Its as simple as that. I dont think the PL would just shits at all if England suffer, the players can injured, clubs suffer, etc., as long as they get as much as revenue from so many fixtures as possible. Thats just how it is Razz

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