Premier League fixture mayhem: Who emerges as the biggest winners

·6-min read
Gabriel Jesus' Arsenal are sitting pretty on top of the table after a period of fixture chaos for the Premier League. Pic: Getty
Gabriel Jesus' Arsenal are sitting pretty on top of the table after a period of fixture chaos for the Premier League. Pic: Getty

The Premier League fixture schedule has been thrown into chaos in recent weeks, with 13 fixtures already cancelled due to the Queen’s passing and subsequent mourning period.

Manchester United’s home game with Leeds, along with Chelsea’s home blockbuster with Liverpool, were both victims of the circumstances last weekend, with the statement earlier in the week from the Premier League suggesting that safety and policing concerns were the reason for the cancellations.

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This season’s front-runners Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham all took advantage of their rivals’ inaction at the weekend, registering victories against Brentford, Wolves and Leicester respectively to cement their places in the top three.

When the cancelled fixtures will now be played is anyone’s guess, given the insanely tight schedule the Premier League is operating under this season - due in part to this year’s World Cup being held in November/December for the first time ever.

A World Cup year like no other

The FIFA World Cup is the biggest tournament in football, occupying centre stage in the football calendar during the northern summer months of June and July since its inception in 1930.

However, the latest edition in Qatar won’t start until November this year, meaning all the major European leagues have had to introduce a “World Cup window” to accommodate this controversial decision.

As a result, the Premier League will go into hibernation from Sunday 13 November and won’t return to action until six weeks later, with the traditional Boxing Day fixtures marking its resumption.

The impact on fixture congestion for the bigger clubs was already significant, with Champions League games scheduled on consecutive weeks in September – also a first – to ensure that competition can be completed on time despite the World Cup interruption.

Pictured here, France celebrating their 2018 FIFA World Cup triumph in Russia.
Holders France will be out to defend the trophy they won at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Pic: Getty

The leading teams in the English competition now have the additional complication of trying to fit in cancelled games from the nation’s mourning period, and very few if any spare slots in the calendar to do so.

Given the circumstances, some have even questioned whether the integrity of the competition is in jeopardy, given United, Liverpool and Chelsea are now at a disadvantage compared to those team who were allowed to play last weekend.

One game might not seem much to be concerned about, but in a World Cup year like no other, it could be a factor come the business end of the season in April and May.

Experts question Premier League decision

And it’s not just the three fixtures that were postponed last weekend that need to be rescheduled. Let’s not forget that the whole of Round Seven for the Premier League (and the rest of English football) was postponed as a mark of respect for Queen Elizabeth II’s passing.

Despite the sensitivity of the subject, the wisdom of that decision has been questioned by several commentators, especially given English cricket went ahead that weekend, as did rugby union and horse racing events.

Ex-England international Gary Lineker was one, tweeting “it feels a real shame that football is not taking place this weekend, therefore missing the opportunity to pay its respects.”

Although the sentiment behind Lineker’s comments were targeted at allowing football to honour the departing monarch, fixture congestion was no doubt a factor in his point of view.

The bottom line for many is that the number of games now needed to be rescheduled is a concern, and the upcoming international break this weekend – meaning no Premier League football until Arsenal host Tottenham on 1st October – just adds to the turmoil.

Boehly’s crazy All-Star Game suggestion ridiculed

Amongst all the concern over the fixture pile-up in the English game, new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly chose last week to call for an “All-Star Game” in English football, along the lines of what is an established concept in his native United States.

Understandably this was ridiculed in many quarters. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s response when asked about it in a press conference recently was priceless:

"When he finds a date for that he can call me. In American sports these players have four-month breaks. Does he want to bring the Harlem Globetrotters too?”

Equally scathing was ex England midfielder Owen Hargreaves, who went further by suggesting that it “it was a nice idea but not realistic. And anyway, the All-Star Games in the US are all rubbish”.

Clearly the American owner has misread the room on this one.

On a more serious note, the fixture congestion in English football this season it set to be more challenging than ever before, especially for those clubs competing in European competitions as well.

With two domestic cup competitions – the FA Cup and EFL (League) Cup – also due to commence in the next couple of months, there seems no end in sight to the number of games, and simply not enough time to play them all.

The outcome?

Given the high priority placed on both the Champions League and Premier League, expect the domestic cups to take a back seat for the top six.

Playing youth players in these competitions has been common for years, but this season it could be whole youth teams that get the opportunity.

The debate looks set to continue well into next year, and don’t be surprised to hear calls of foul play over the fixture inequity come the end of the season, when players will be fatigued and under pressure to play multiple games in a week.

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