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Premier League clubs to come under greater pressure from fixtures next season

Premier League clubs will find themselves under greater pressure from fixture scheduling next season but no decision has yet been made on whether an even more gruelling festive period can be avoided.

A number of managers have expressed their surprise, both publicly and privately, about the demands placed on some teams over Christmas and New Year.

Southampton were by far the worst off playing three games in just under five days - about 117 hours - and suffering three defeats.

"We are also the one team with three games in five days and this is very difficult. It is not possible," said manager Claude Puel after defeat to Everton on Monday.

Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker suggested next season will be even worse for top-flight clubs.

"If you think this PL holiday fixture list is mad, here's next year: December 16/20/23/26/30 January 1. World Cup follows. Utterly Bonkers," he tweeted.

Press Association Sport understands the dates highlighted by the former England international are on the 2017-18 draft schedule and match days will not be confirmed until June when the official programme is released after FIFA and UEFA fixtures and FA Cup dates have been decided upon.

Even then matches will still be subject to change for a variety of reasons, the chief one being to suit television requirements.

Next season's calendar throws up a number of challenges for the Premier League as the 2018 World Cup means it has an agreement with the Football Association to finish early in order to give England manager Gareth Southgate a full month to prepare for the tournament in Russia.

The Premier League has also agreed with the FA that, where possible, the FA Cup will have its own standalone date and not clash with any other matches.

This season's festive schedule, generally speaking, saw five matches scheduled over 19 days.

A worst-case scenario next season could see six games played in 16 days. However, before confirmation all dates go through the Fixtures Working Group process, which includes representation from the clubs, and it is not a given draft dates will all ultimately become match days in what is a complicated procedure of finalising the football calendar.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was outspoken on the issue, even though his side had one of the easiest schedules and escaped the workload experienced by others.

The Gunners' three matches over the festive period, concluding with a trip to Bournemouth on Tuesday, took place in a spell just under nine days - more than 214 hours in total.

"In 20 years it is the most uneven Christmas period I've seen," said Wenger.

"The difference in rest period is unbelievable in terms of all the teams.

"We have sold the rights to TV for a lot of money so we have to accept TV chooses the games - but some teams have more luck than others."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was also critical of the scheduling which saw his side face title rivals Manchester City at home late on New Year's Eve and then have to travel to Sunderland to kick-off less than 44 hours later.

As a result, the Reds played their three fixtures in just under 144 hours.

"I had no experience (of two games in less than 48 hours). Now I have more. We will look at the numbers and see how far we have run," said the German after a 2-2 draw at the Stadium of Light.

"Next year when we play the 31st and 1st we will know what is possible and what was not."

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