Belfast Telegraph

5 ways Premier League fixture congestion might be tackled

The Premier League's hectic festive fixture list is in the spotlight again after Pep Guardiola claimed it would "kill" his players.

Manchester City's manager says players need more protection after his side played their fourth game in 11 days in the 3-1 win over Watford.

Here, Press Association Sport explores five ways the authorities could deal with the problem of Premier League fixture congestion.

An 18-team league

Germany's Bundesliga features 18 teams, meaning a 34 rather than a 38-game league season and allowing for a winter break of nearly four weeks. With that background it is surely no coincidence that Germany have reached at least the semi-finals of every World Cup or European Championship since 2006. The Premier League went down from 22 teams to 20 in 1995 when four teams are relegated and only two promoted. Repeating the trick might go down well with the bosses of the big clubs and also the England manager, but the majority of the Premier League, plus the Championship, not to mention the TV companies who pay vast sums of money to screen matches, might kick up a stink.

Scrap replays and two-legged cup ties

A seemingly simple way to reduce fixture pile-up would be to scrap replays in domestic cup competitions, and even extra-time, sending matches which are level after 90 minutes straight to penalties. City's last two Carabao Cup ties have gone all the way to spot-kicks. They also face a two-legged semi-final with Bristol City in that competition, with the first leg coming up on Tuesday. Reducing that to a one-off clash would free up another match-day which could ease winter congestion.

Or go the whole hog...

... and get rid of the EFL Cup completely - or at least make it a non-Premier League competition. Clubs in the Bundesliga, LaLiga and Serie A do not play in an equivalent competition, making do with one domestic cup. The English Football League would surely put up a fight to keep the top-flight teams on board though.

FA Cup adjustment

Another option would be for the top-flight clubs, or at least those still involved in European competition, to enter the FA Cup at the fourth rather than third round. It is hard to see this idea sitting well with purists though, especially giving the fierce criticism Manchester United came in for when withdrawing from the 1999-2000 competition to play in the FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil.

Scrap Boxing Day and New Year's Day matches

Statistics show clearly just how many league games top-flight teams play in December. The average gap in days between Premier League games in the month was 4.5. The next lowest average gap is in April at seven days. Getting rid of Boxing Day and New Year's Day matches and instead playing them elsewhere in the season would ease the stresses on players, but would no doubt go down like a lead balloon among traditionalists.

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