Come the end of February, Capital One Cup finalists Manchester City and Liverpool will both have played 42 games this season. That’s an average of 1.45 games per week since the start of the season.
Compare that with their Barclays Premier League rivals, and that’s 3 more games than Arsenal and 10 more than league leaders Leicester City during the same period. When you compare it to their European counterparts, the only team to play more games than City and Liverpool this season are Barcelona – who kick off their 43rd game of the season as the Capital One Cup winners will arrive back in the North West.
So when BBC pundit Alan Shearer questioned Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s ‘moaning’ during this weekend’s FA Cup clash vs Chelsea – did the former England striker have a point or were his comments a little unjust?
“Barcelona played on Saturday and they face Arsenal in the Champions League on Tuesday. It is the same amount of time as City, but they didn’t rest any players… I never see Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo wanting to be left out” Shearer said.
For City, the recent run of poor results have come at a time when eyes are transfixed on the clubs management and their ability to deliver trophies. Sunday’s game vs Chelsea will mark a run of 5 games in 13 days for the side, which includes a UEFA Champions League first-leg clash in Kiev, the Capital One Cup final vs Liverpool, followed by Barclays Premier League games away to Liverpool and Aston Villa.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has made his thoughts on the fixture pile up quite clear, and will be equally irate at his side having to play 3 games in the space of 6 days – starting with the Capital One Cup Final this weekend.
So is the fixture build up really harming the standard of the English game?
Contrary to Alan Shearer’s comments, former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez seems to think so. In his autobiography, Suarez says: “If you compare the intensity of the Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League you can see that the English league’s harder.” This came following a prolonged argument for a 15-20 day break during January.
The need for a fixture re-shuffle is a thought shared by many in the English game. Calls for a winter break may relieve some of the pressure, but the pile up of fixtures during a crucial part of the season are of real concern. The pressure to scrap FA Cup replays is a start, but the problem is rooted deeper and at a much higher level.
The staggered format of the later stages of European football competition must be questioned. Playing UEFA Champions League games over 4 weeks may increase viewing figures, but we must look at the bigger picture and the effect this is having on the game on home soil.
Premier League teams, including Manchester City and Liverpool have seen an increase in recurring injuries of first team players this season. And, given the excessive fixtures both have played in both league and cup competitions, it’s clear that league performances have been effected – both teams considerably underperforming.
Hearing a pundit with Shearer’s reputation telling clubs to ‘suck it up’ will be music to the ears of the FA, who have long been scrutinized for their inability to tackle a growing problem in the professional game. But his comments will likely fall on deaf ears in Manchester. The thought of a daunting 3,500 mile round-trip will probably be of more concern.