The past few weeks – from Christmas through the New Year holiday – has been a time of celebration for most people as they relax at home with family. But in professional sports, the holiday period can be anything but “relaxed” – particularly if you are an NBA or English Premier League player. The former endured the annual Christmas “marathon” fixture list, while the latter found themselves facing five games across just 14 days! The lack of rest increases the chance of injuries and, as has been the case with severely depleted Liverpool, has also reduced the quality of their games.
Red manager Jürgen Klopp joked that his German friends sent congratulatory messages to him after Liverpool beat Stoke City in the semi-finals of the League Cup, assuming his side has secured progression to the Cup final at Wembley. Then Klopp realized the semis are actually played across two legs! The same goes with the FA cup – Liverpool drew League Two club Exeter last weekend and Klopp fielded a reserve team to deal with the club’s massive injury list . Yet he bemoaned, “I can’t believe we have a rematch again” after his young side scrambled a 2-2 draw. That’s right – no penalties, no extra time, a REMATCH!
European coaches generally know all about the intensity of English football, but experiencing it in person is a totally different story. So Klopp has had to deal with a squad hit so hard by injuries that he needs to field a starting 11 with only 14 first team players available. Players out on loan have been recalled and the market probed to see if there are players available to help. For a new manager in the Premier League, this is a great lesson.
Klopp’s note to Pep Guardiola, the Bayern Munich manager widely tipped to take over at Manchester City next season? “England is all about football, football, football,” Klopp said, suggesting Guardiola prepare a squad of “35 players.”
With the European Cup coming up in the summer, the other burning question is how will British players cope with long-term fatigue, both mentally and physically? It is a question that English media ask every few years given the national team has historically under-performed on the world stage.
Fingers are pointed, questions are raised. But the hugely profitable Premier League doesn’t care. They want revenue, they want their audience. And what’s the best entertainment for a family toasting a great Christmas and New Year?
The logic is simple, but to managers like Klopp it certainly seems illogical when the hectic schedule starts destroying all he had planned.