It’s coming up to one of the most congested times in the English footballing calendar where clubs either reap the rewards or slide down the table as the new year approaches.
The abundance of fixtures can test teams in a variety of ways as the games approach thick and fast. One of the greatest challenges the schedule brings is the physical demand it can have on an entire squad. For example, if a team has a thin squad but are forced to play three games in eight days, they will become very tired and the risk of injuries will increase. The current goalkeeping situation at Newcastle United is occurring at the worst time for the club, who will be forced to rely on an emergency loan throughout the winter period.
The games are stacking up for Newcastle after they played their fourth game this month against Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup. Their run of games against Sunderland, Manchester United and Everton are not the easiest and they will certainly be targeting whatever goalkeeper starts for Newcastle.
Another crucially important aspect of the winter fixture list is form. If a team puts a couple of wins together, momentum gathers and a serious amount of points can be gained over December. It brings a fresh impetus into the New Year and can really turn a club’s season around. Looking at Manchester United, three wins against Aston Villa, Newcastle and Tottenham could see them seriously mounting a title push after their poor start to the season. December plays a key part in teams’ confidence due to the fact that over the years, many have looked towards Christmas as a point of clarification.
For example, the phrase ‘bottom by Christmas’ is used a lot by pundits and fans to determine what the table will look like at the end of the season. Over the years, the table hasn’t changed dramatically in a positional sense from the end of December to May, which is why many see the winter schedule as one of the most important times of the year. By the time December is over, all Premier League teams would have played everyone at least once, meaning that teams will set realistic targets based on how well they have done in the first half of the season.
If results do not go as planned, teams will suddenly start to panic and will try to avoid terrible runs of form. This is why the January transfer window is perfectly placed for clubs to do business immediately after a packed fixture list. Clubs can identify where they need strengthening but getting hold of the ideal player in January is never an easy task. This is where ‘panic buying’ can really cripple teams, especially the ones struggling at the bottom. Forcing new players to immediately gel with a squad in the winter window can create more problems than solutions.
In fact, the current players will lose confidence in their own ability as the manager has looked to other new players to turn the season around. Although the window can help clubs fighting at the bottom, it can also create bigger problems that can cause teams to sink to the bottom of the league. The other side of the debate surrounding the January window is the fact that clubs with talented individuals will attract the interest of bigger clubs. Although it has become more commonplace for big names to stay put in January, the appeal of a bigger club and a higher wage packet can lead to players leaving which puts a lot of pressure on teams to find a replacement in a very short period of time.
Overall, a team’s season is shaped by what happens in December. Southampton need to make sure that they have a good winter schedule as they need to stop a run of five defeats in a row increasing. West Ham could cement their challenge for European places as points against Chelsea and Arsenal would be a bonus at this stage. Looking at the bottom, Leicester are in danger of slipping away as they are five points off safety already so Nigel Pearson’s men need one big turn-around to get out of trouble.
December is a hectic time for every Premier League club but one thing’s for certain, it really does make or break a club’s season.