It feels like every season prompts another round of hand-wringing concerning fixture pile-ups and the amount of football that is played, and these past few weeks have hardly been an exception.
Gary Lineker took to Twitter and suggested that the League Cup should be scrapped and the FA Cup should start earlier in the season. It was an entirely illogical idea given that the latter already begins in early August but at least the Match of the Day presenter was consistent in his blaming of the domestic cups for players suffering fatigue: in 2017 he called for FA Cup replays to be done away with as well as League Cup semi-finals played over two legs.
Pep Guardiola has also had his say, claiming the scrapping of cup replays or the dismantling of the Carabao Cup would be solutions to a crowded schedule, and of course Jurgen Klopp went one better by declaring himself and his first-team squad unavailable for the 1-0 Fourth Round replay win over Shrewsbury.
We can assume other Premier League managers feel the same way but naturally it is only the thoughts of these two that make the national headlines, and that is in part because their clubs are also involved in a fourth competition in addition to the league.
It is vast and demanding, taking up six different midweeks between September and December, and worse still, necessitating the travelling of thousands of miles. Then in February it starts all over again, muscling in on an already congested fixture list with two-legged ties that run all the way to the final.
Isn’t it peculiar that any alterations to the Champions League never seem to crop up in conversation whenever the subject of fixture congestion arises. It’s as if the highly lucrative tournament that harvests each participating club millions each season is exempt from such considerations.
Whereas the domestic cups of course are fair game. The little old traditional tin-pot cups that the bigger Premier League sides deign to throw a few kids in for: they are disposable and regarded as a chore. The arrogance – not to mention the convenient selectiveness in seeking blame – is astounding.
More annoying still, the Champions League really could do with a do-over. The group stages amount to a predictable formality that sees the best two teams progress almost every time. It genuinely feels possible on the drawing of all eight groups to foresee how each will finish up before a single ball has been kicked.
Should it revert back to a knock-out competition however we really would be in business and more so, it would not be necessary to go back to only featuring each country’s champions that year – thus retaining the top four in the Premier League. The format currently houses 32 clubs beyond its qualifying rounds so in single-legged affairs – like the FA Cup – that fits neatly into five rounds.
Just imagine it: Manchester City v Barcelona in the first round or Bayern v Liverpool in the second. Everything to play for from the off and hey presto, a tournament revived. Better yet clubs would be cutting back on a maximum of eight games a season thus eradicating fixture congestion.
It would never happen of course. Not in a million years and the reasons are a million fold, all of them with pound signs on them. If money is what is easily preventing the easing of fixture congestion, let’s stop picking on two competitions that means far more than cold cash.