Last season Liverpool, more than any other team in Europe, saw just how bad fixture congestion can be in England. English football notoriously plays straight through the season without a winter break, and teams have not one but two domestic cup competitions. Add in European football, and top clubs can play competitive matches every three or four days, and diminished recovery times can exacerbate the frequency and severity of injuries.
The FA, somewhat surprisingly, have heard the complaints about fixture congestion and are now considering solutions which could benefit players’ health. The first measure is to end replays in the quarterfinal (or as the FA stubbornly calls it “Round 6”) of the FA Cup. These matches will now be straight elimination matches with extra time and penalties.
Additionally, the FA would like to add a fourth sub that could be used in extra time during the quarterfinal, semifinal, and final matches, assuming all three previous subs had been used in regulation. This idea was first tried in this summer’s Copa America, and is being studied for global use by the world rules-making body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB).
At first blush these seem like good ideas, both for the players and for the fans. Far too often extra time matches produce painfully dull conclusions. Adding an extra sub could add some excitement to the last 30 minutes, and also protect players who might be nursing an injury. Also, eliminating replays a round earlier would also help teams stay fit toward the end of the season.
The extra sub proposal still needs to be approved by the IFAB, but it seems as if the FA is moving in the right direction. Now, just do something about that two-legged League Cup semifinal and we’re cool.