Packed Premier League schedule isn't fair - it's not even fun for fans
Something has to change.
If you watched Wolves vs Sevilla this week, you’ll have seen how exhausted Nuno Santo’s side were as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat that ended their Europa League dream.
Aside from one lung-bursting run from Adama Traore in the first half, the Premier League outfit looked absolutely knackered, finally being put out of their misery by Lucas Ocampos’ header in the 88th minute.
Even Raúl Jiménez’s missed penalty looked laboured, the striker stumbling up to the ball before placing his weak shot straight at the goalkeeper.
While they managed to get past Olympiakos in the previous round, Wolves’ performance against Sevilla was indicative of the fatigue that dogged the latter matches of the Premier League’s Project Restart - and the schedule for the 2020/21 campaign only adds to fears that players are facing burnout.
As the Premier League published its confirmed fixture dates on Thursday, ESPN’s Dale Johnson shared the packed schedule on Twitter.
The Premier League has published its schedule in full, so THIS is your finalised packed schedule for the 2020-21 season. pic.twitter.com/imMzYDDSH6
— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) August 13, 2020
It was immediately apparent that there’s little room for manoeuvre - even with FA Cup replays cancelled - with clubs that expect to go far in domestic and continental competitions facing an Everest-sized fixture pile-up.
The Premier League have pencilled in four potential catch-up dates for rearranged matches after Christmas and it’s likely that teams competing in Europe and challenging for domestic honours will need to use every one of them.
Should Manchester City end up winning the Champions League later this month, it will be almost impossible to squeeze in their Club World Cup commitments on top of everything else.
It’s at times like this that you wonder whether there might be too much football, if such a thing can exist.
While it should be acknowledged what a brilliant job the Premier League and other organisations have achieved in bringing football back during a global pandemic, the pressure on players shouldn’t be ignored.
As much as we want to see our teams in action, allowing us to cling to some sense of normality even if we can’t be in the stadium ourselves, the truth is that the current standard of elite level football can’t survive such a crowded schedule.
It was hugely frustrating to watch Wolves struggle against Sevilla, knowing that if they hadn’t played nine matches in a five-week period over June and July then it could have been a much fiercer contest. But that image of zombie-like footballers going through the motions, their physical reserves completely exhausted, could well be the trend of the 20/21 campaign.
This isn’t a new problem - Liverpool faced the farce of having to hand the first-team reins to U23 manager Neil Critchley on two occasions this season, while clubs have long complained about the amount of international matches on top of the domestic calendar. But given the enormous overhaul caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it does feel like the perfect juncture to question whether the football calendar should be revised.
Less football of a higher standard is surely preferable to three games a week in which the players can barely get out of first gear. And looking at the schedule for next season, the latter is likely to be a stark reality by October.