The soccer news starts with another part of the fixture congestion over England's holiday calendar. After multiple league games from Boxing Day through New Years, the Premier League and Championship clubs have another obligation on Sunday. It's the Third Round of the 2019-20 FA Cup with no break for the top two divisions as they enter the tournament at this point.
Sunday's schedule has DeAndre Yedlin's Newcastle United at Rochdale, Christian Pulisic's Chelsea at home to Nottingham Forest, and Cameron Carter-Vickers's Spurs at Middlesbrough. Given the state of the Premier League table, all three of those teams should have mixed concerns. There's the Premier League table of course, alongside the open transfer window and finally getting a truncated break in the schedule. While leagues all over Europe aren't playing, the Premier League is having about as much success with implementing a break as they are with instant replay.
Meanwhile, the players on the field press on in a throwback to an earlier era. Read a few histories of English soccer over the last few decades, and nature occasionally provided its own winter break in the era of no under-soil heating. This in an era where the game is far more physically demanding and taxing on players than it has ever been. Add in the increases in the number of games for successful clubs in European competitions alongside playing for national teams, and the amount of playing time expected from elite players is almost shocking.
Apparently not enough for the Premier League in particular to do much about it, but they're not alone. UEFA and FIFA's insistence on expanding their competitions and obligating clubs, national teams, and players are major parts of the problem. When everything that ends up on the schedule has to be important, it takes a team deciding that it really isn't. Liverpool chose to bow out of the League Cup last month in favor of sending its strongest squad to the Club World Cup. They lost 5-0 at Aston Villa on a Tuesday and knocked Monterrey out of the Club World Cup the next day. Back-to-back games a day apart isn't the norm, but it certainly happened to the Premier League leaders this season.
It was the Club World Cup that took the first shot at the unmatched importance of the FA Cup now almost two decades ago. Manchester United bowed out of the 1999-20 FA Cup in favor of the first Club World Cup that ran from January 5-15 in Brazil. There was the expected outcry, but Manchester United missed two important opportunities. They didn't get out of their group and they didn't manage to draw a line between the importance of competitions and realistic expectations for players. Two decades on, the idea of an English club completely sitting out one of the domestic cups still makes sense, but is basically a nonstarter. It shouldn't be that way. For the good of players, something has to give.
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