The Premier League fixtures will be coming thin and slowly over the next fortnight or so as the league’s inaugural winter break takes effect. Instead of welcoming seven or eight fixtures last weekend, we were meant to have been treated to just four.
Then Storm Ciara kicked in and deprived us of Sunday’s late kick-off between Manchester City and West Ham. But why are we finally adopting this break that has featured in Europe for so long?
The longest winter break is enjoyed by the Bundesliga, who clock off one week prior to Christmas and are off duty until the middle of January. Across the border in France, Ligue 1 has a 24-day hiatus, with Spain and Italy taking 18 and 16 days off between games respectively.
It’s a 13-day rest period in between fixtures for each club in England’s top division. It has come about in a way that mirrors the other main leagues in Europe, in a bid to reduce the stress put on players.
With a handful of England’s go-to men injured ahead of the Euros, it seems easier to comprehend the benefits than ever. Captain Harry Kane ruptured a tendon in his hamstring during a defeat at St Mary’s on New Year’s Day, requiring an operation, and has not featured since. Another Three Lions casualty, Tom Heaton, is out for the rest of the season following a festive period ACL injury.
Essentially, the Premier League winter break means 10 fixtures across a fortnight will take place over two weekends and all will be televised. There is not going to be a traditional 3pm kick-off during this time, which may prove problematic for some travelling fans.
Fans hit hardest
Take last weekend’s early game. Everton v Crystal Palace. That train journey is a good three-and-a-half to four hours long. Not ideal for a 12.30pm kick-off. Burnley fans face the same problem this weekend when they head down to Southampton for the lunchtime game, while Newcastle travel to Arsenal on Sunday’s late match.
Another team seemingly adversely affected by the winter break is Tottenham. Their break was shortened due to the FA Cup replay against Southampton and then shortened some more by their game against Aston Villa being moved to the Sunday. In turn, they have less time to recover before they play RB Leipzig in the Champions League.
Who actually benefits?
So perhaps this winter break is less for player welfare and logistics than it is for television slots and filling schedules.
It doesn’t seem to have been entirely thought through, as demonstrated by the way the FA Cup has tied into the break. Initially, the FA seemed to have been successfully looped in by moving the FA Cup fifth-round fixtures from mid-February to March but apparently didn’t factor fourth-round replays into the equation.
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