No rest but football

2021 has been a silly old year for English football. Capacity crowds were allowed since the start of the season and things looked to be on their way up. However, things have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks due to a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of covid across the world has impacted Britain significantly.

 

That is being evident more and more as games are getting postponed on a regular basis. Positive cases combined with the number of injuries in certain teams mean they cannot afford to field a full lineup of senior players. The worry then becomes of how those fixtures can be played out at a later time, given the paucity of rest with next year’s World Cup in December looming.

 

So, what is the way out from all of this and is there even one?

 

PLAYER WELFARE AT THE FORE 

The most pressing worry in all of this, from a player’s perspective is of course their health and well-being. Several notable superstars including Robert Lewandowksi and Kylian Mbappe, along with Premier League managers Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and others have loudly voiced their concerns.

 

There has also been major debate with the league itself, on a variety of issues including moving back to five substitutions, how to provide adequate rest and the busy festive fixtures list.

 

Coming to the point of increasing substitutions, 14 Premier League clubs need to agree in order to change the current number. A number of clubs in the bottom half have vetoed the proposal, stating that it strengthens the richer teams who have deeper squad strength.

 

The AFCON is slated to start in early January, meaning players will have little rest as they are playing for their countries. Though the major focus has been on the number of matches they will miss for their clubs, the bigger issues of covid and the ensuing quarantine norms remain.

 

Several teams that have been the worst affected include Leeds United, Newcastle United, Leicester City, Aston Villa, and Everton. What has made the situation worse is the number of injuries many of these clubs have also had to manage simultaneously. Leeds were without 10 first-team players in their match against Arsenal.

 

Leicester have only recognized centre-back, which no doubt contributed to their thrashing against Manchester City. Newcastle, similarly, have key absentees and lost two players on Monday in their match against Manchester United, a game in which the Red Devils still struggled mightily.

 

Just yesterday, the clash between the Magpies and Everton was postponed while the news came today that Mikel Arteta has tested positive. That means he will be missing from the sidelines when Arsenal take on Manchester City on Sunday.

 

All of which points to a busy January transfer window for certain clubs requiring reinforcements in order to stay competitive and pick up points during the business end of the season.

 

NO SIGN OF THINGS GETTING BETTER

The obvious question is when will the postponed fixtures be played. There are only two mid-weeks without games from now till the end of the season. The fact that the Premier League is the only top-five league without a winter break, and especially during these uncertain times has left many managers frustrated.

 

The return of European football in February will see clubs having to split time and players between different competitions. Already there have been several sides fielding very youthful lineups for the Carabao Cup, and the same might be repeated for the FA Cup as well.

 

More complications have come from FIFA’s recent plans to have a biennial World Cup. Clubs and players have reacted sharply to this proposed change, saying that players’ health will be jeopardized further. UEFA and CONMEBOL have both jointly considered the idea of boycotting the World Cup if it does happen every two years.

 

Even all of the European leagues have shown little enthusiasm for the idea.

The Qatar World Cup’s unique disposition means that leagues will have to stop games for that period of time in December. If the current season does finish in June or early-July, there will be a little more than a month’s rest before the next one begins.

There is no end in sight in all probability, unless some drastic measures are taken across the board.

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Final beckons!