August 5 is the earliest the Premier League has started, beating by two days the first set of games in 1999-2000. So early that Liverpool will play a friendly on August 7, a day after starting against Fulham in the league.
"We still have to prepare (for) a season, so we cannot ignore that (the friendly)," Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has said. Especially because from mid-August, Klopp said, Liverpool play nearly every three days, "so there is no time for training anymore." Between August 22 and September 3 Liverpool play four games.
The season will end on May 28, six days later than 2021-22, meaning even after the first-ever break to accommodate a World Cup in the northern hemisphere's winter, this iteration won't be the most crunched. That was in 2020-21 when the season began on September 12 and ended on May 23.
This time, after 16 match days the league will pause. Executives of all 20 clubs decided last year that games will stop after November 12 and resume on December 26.
Players going to the World Cup-every team is likely to have one in Qatar and the number could be well over 10 for champions Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United-will get a week to get ready for international duty. Premier League players in the World Cup final will have eight days between the triumph, or disaster, in Doha and a Boxing Day kick-off at their clubs.
Equally, a number of players would be forced into a mid-season break either because their countries are not among the 32 finalists-among them are Mo Salah, Jorginho and Erling Haaland-or they haven't made the final squad. This break could feel a bit like 2019-20 when Covid-19 brought football to a halt and teams had to start all over again.
After World Cup struggle
"The break is longer than anyone would like," said Owen Coyle, speaking on the phone during an early morning drive back from England where he had gone to see players for Queen's Park FC, the Scottish second tier club he manages now. "What if Manchester City have another slow start? How will they get that momentum if the league stops?"
The upside of it is that some players will get rest during the season but it could also be difficult for clubs to regain rhythm after the break, said Coyle. "Some players will be away and equally, some won't so to get all of them up to the intensity of the Premier League after the World Cup would be a challenge," said Coyle, the former Jamshedpur FC head coach who has managed Burnley and Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League.
Coyle said he also saw a greater risk for those who would return to the league after going deep in the World Cup. "You have just gone to a high intensity competition in a different country and with a different climate and then come back to the Premier League almost without a break. Usually in World Cup years you get time off between the tournament and your league but that is not going to happen this time."
That said, not everyone would want a break. "Teams that were going well wouldn't want but teams that have been struggling with injuries or a lack of momentum wouldn't mind one. But the thing is, everyone knows there will be a break and can act accordingly. Planning will be more crucial than it usually is," said Coyle.
More work for sports science teams
More so for the Premier League elite who will also have fixtures in Europe. "There is no overstating the intensity of games in the Premier League and the physical and mental toll they take. This time they will come quicker than expected. So, recovery will be crucial, the sports science teams at the clubs will be needed more," said Coyle.
Phil Brown agreed, saying teams that don't usually play quarter-finals and semi-finals of cup competitions will find the season easier than those who do. "But that's also the reason why you have squads," he said. "Manchester City, Liverpool and the others in the top six have tremendous strength in depth and that will mean some players who would barely get games in a normal season could be making 10-15 more appearances," said Brown, who guided Hull City to the Premier League in 2008-09.
A never-before season got Coyle to predict that it would be more than a two-team race. "For sure, City and Liverpool will be challenging for the title but Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea will run those two close."
Brown went a step further. "The team to watch out for would be Antonio Conte's Spurs," he said as the phone line crackled with a baby's gurgle. "That's my son and he gets excited hearing talk about the Premier League," Brown deadpanned. His reason for backing Spurs is this: it is very difficult to improve teams like Manchester City or Liverpool. "Not so Spurs. So watch out for them."
By Dhiman Sarkar
Published by HT Digital Content Services with permission from Hindustan Times.
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