At last, most teams in the Premier League can get a decent rest after a hectic festive period and New Year. For some teams, it’s been five games in two weeks and the effects are clear.
West Ham, playing in their 3rd game in five days, could only earn a draw at Shrewsbury, resulting in an FA Cup replay back at the London Stadium. Tottenham have played the same frequency of games and were made to work to come through their own FA Cup tie against League Two AFC Wimbledon.
Their North London rivals Arsenal were forced into fielding a weakened team, and paid the price as Arsene Wenger lost a third round match for the first time in charge of Arsenal after a 4-2 defeat at Nottingham Forest.
Such has been the crazy nature of this year’s festive fixtures that despite this recent run, it is hard to argue against the fact that West Ham have massively benefitted from the bizarre scheduling.
Whilst they had to play a difficult game against Spurs with just two days’ rest, their opponents were in the same boat.
However, two days earlier West Brom were not so fortunate. On the back of just two days of rest they faced relegation rivals who had had a week off. Those opponents were West Ham.
It was a game that even die-hard Hammers fans would admit extra rest played a part. West Brom led at half-time, and were beaten late on as they ran out of gas.
Even West Ham Manager David Moyes admitted he felt sorry for them.
“If I was Alan Pardew I would be completely disappointed with the way the Premier League has set it up for them,” said Moyes.
West Brom attempted to delay the game by a day, but this was turned down by the Premier League and they were ultimately condemned to a defeat in a crucial game.
In the past, when everyone played on Boxing Day, maybe two days later, and a few days after that, it was not unfair. Difficult, but not unfair.
But if teams are getting different amounts of rest for crucial games, it simply doesn’t work. Ultimately, the Baggies’ status in the division may come down to a matter of three points.
And then there’s the quality of the football.
Some games over the Christmas period were woeful. Arsenal dominated possession in their 1-1 draw with the Baggies, but lacked energy. Possibly because they had had a 48 hour turnaround, unlike their opponents.
Add to that list Manchester United and Southampton, Huddersfield and Burnley, and Newcastle and Brighton and you have three games that had the potential to be so much better, but lacked clear-cut chances and ultimately ended in goalless stalemates.
Man City’s own stalemate led to the end of an 18 match winning run as Palace held them. This led to a series of statements from Pep Guardiola.
“We’re going to kill the players,” he said after the Watford win. “They play 11 months in a row. They have to protect them and play with quality and not quantity. We have to think about the artists.”
He understands what festive football is about in this country, but you can’t help but agree with what he has to say here.
Ok, maybe describing them as ‘Artists’ is dubious, but the essential point is right. The modern festive football schedule blatantly disregards player welfare.
So with Sky and BT trying to show fans a match every day and as a result teams getting different amounts of rest for different games, the fairness and quality of football played over the festive period has taken a serious knock.
Adding to the problems that already existed of a higher likelihood of injuries, and English clubs’ and the national team’s continental and international ambitions being affected respectively.
For the most committed football fans, the two weeks of football played around Christmas are some of the most enjoyable, but if the schedule is not made fairer on all the clubs and players, Guardiola won’t be alone in his protests for long.