Of the 20 Premier League teams playing football during the Christmas festive period, only Liverpool an Swansea were spared the necessity to be performing on both the 26th and 28th December as their encounter was delayed until the 29th for television coverage. Sunderland manager Gus Poyet claimed that the decision to play two games in three days was a disgrace while some of the footballers viewed the demanding fixture schedule as no problem and a far better option than training.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was another critic of the Christmas fixture declaring that the scientific research had proven that the timescales offered little opportunity for player recuperation. Yet such is the strength of his Chelsea squad, he was able to rest several personnel with international footballers selected as replacements. Those football clubs with more depth in their respective squads were deemed to hold an advantage in such scenarios yet the Manchester City versus Burnley match illustrated the opposite view.
Admittedly, Manchester City have been beset with injuries in recent weeks especially in attack but they have the financial muscle to invest substantial sums of money in their first team squad despite the limitations of the UEFA Financial Fair Play penalties. Two days after beating West Brom at The Hawthorns, City had built a 2-0 lead at the interval in their home match with newly promoted Burnley.
Yet Burnley were arguably the better and fitter team during the second period and earned a shock 2-2 draw. Similarly, Chelsea and Manchester United were unable to repeat their Boxing Day victories in sharing the points during their respective games on 28th December.
However, one statistic from games played on the 28th suggests that there may have been a degree of weariness among the Premier League players. Of the nine matches played, three finished goalless and there was barely a shot on target when Gus Poyet’s Sunderland team drew 0-0 at Aston Villa.
However, with Premier League managers voicing their dismay at the congested Christmas fixture list, there were less public complaints from those teams in the lower teams of the English football pyramid. Almost a full complement of games occurred on both days in the Championship, League One and League Two. Although not considered ideal, players and coaches appeared more willing to accept the situation and rotate squads where possible. Teams in those leagues play eight more games per season than in the Premier League and are perhaps more accustomed to the demands of a hectic fixture schedule and could be deemed as mentally stronger as a result.
It will be a similar case at the weekend when there is a full set of Premier League fixtures on New Year’s Day followed, for some teams, by the FA Cup 3rd Round on Saturday. Yet the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Sunderland are allowed a further day of rest due to televised coverage of their FA Cup ties.
Will there be any complaints should those teams emerge victorious in the days ahead?