The Premier League Winter Break
If you are a fan of trawling through Social Media, checking out the latest video that everyone is talking about, looking at that controversial tweet that is making headlines, you will have noticed several Premier League stars posting messages from places such as Dubai and America. No, we are not in late May or early June, it is February and it is freezing outside, we are however in the midst of the first ever Premier League Winter break. It was agreed that each Premier League club would receive at least 13 days rest between successive fixtures, following what in England is a hectic Christmas period. But has it worked, or has it opened a new debate that could cause further damage to the English football pyramid?
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Why was the Winter break introduced?
As a football fan of many years, it was certainly strange looking at the fixtures of the weekend just gone (February 8-9) and seeing only a handful of Premier League games. As the league has evolved over time, with a growing influence of foreign coaches and players, most of which has been hugely beneficial, it was decided England should follow the example of many leagues across Europe and have a mid-season break. Coaches argued due to the sheer demand on their players, a sustained period of rest was needed, especially for those clubs who had the potential to reach the latter stages of the Champions League and Europa League.
As well as domestic football, it is the belief of many in the game that having a break will benefit the England National team. England’s failure at major tournaments is a very popular discussion point amongst fans up and down the country, and it is a common theme that the players arrive at these tournaments tired, and ultimately unable to produce their best when it matters. Giving them some time off, it is claimed, will give England more of a chance of having a successful World cup or European championship.
How long is the break?
We are currently in the middle of the Winter Break. To satisfy the demands of the TV companies, the break has been split. So essentially one full round of Premier League games is split in half over two weekends. So last weekend we had a reduced schedule, and it will be the same this weekend (February 15-16 2020) with the calendar returning to normal on February 22-23, 2020.
Has it worked and what does the future hold?
One of the concerns of many involved in the game before the break was introduced was how would it effect the F.A Cup. Traditionally, the FA Cup fifth round would have been played on the weekend of Feb. 15. Instead, it will now be played in the midweek of March 4 — the rest week between the opening knockout matches of the Champions League and Europa League. Furthermore, replays have now been scrapped from the fifth round on wards, and if the teams can’t be separated after 90 minutes, extra time and penalties will take place.
The changes to the F.A Cup has led to much heated debate. Jurgen Klopp was that angry with the fixture pile up his Liverpool side had, that he did not attend his side’s replay victory over league 1 Shrewsbury, and also fielded an entire 11 made up of academy players, so the important first team regulars could get their full allocation of rest. Because of the amount of fixtures, Klopp has joined a few other Premier League managers in calling for replays to be scrapped entirely. The massive counter argument to this, as you can read in our F.A Cup article here, is that replay money is a lifeline for lower league clubs, and depriving them of a chance of a replay is killing any possibility of competition in the English game, and only widening and already huge chasm between the elite and the rest.
It is not just the cup which has caused problems, however. Due to storm Ciara, the recent Manchester City Vs West Ham game was postponed. Because Manchester City are still involved in a number of competitions, the Premier League had to seek special dispensation from UEFA to reschedule the West Ham game, as it will clash with two Champions League last-16 ties, including Tottenham’s home leg against Red Bull Leipzig. Bad weather in Winter in England, who would have thought?
It is easy to see why a break was introduced, in principle, it is a good idea. Football doesn’t stop entirely as in other leagues, due to the games being split over two weekends, and players receive some rest. However, it has been a far from smooth experience. What would happen with the F.A cup was clearly not thought through. Was it arrogance from the Premier League, with the scheduling suggesting it is unlikely a lower league club could actually draw with a Premier League team and force a replay? How dare Shrewsbury force Liverpool into an extra game, giving their club much needed funds that will help sustain them for years to come.
The debate will rumble on, as the Winter Break will clash with F.A cup fourth round replays again next season. The first Winter Break has no doubt brought into sharp focus the different worlds between the top league and those beneath. It feels as though this is a huge moment for the current structure of the game in this country, and there could be significant changes ahead. Still, for the time being, those in the Championship and below will continue to play every Saturday and Tuesday on sometimes awful pitches, whilst the Premier League stars make their way back from Dubai and beyond.
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