After Manchester United decisively beat Everton on Saturday, Red Devils manager Olé Gunnar Solskjaer slammed the Premier League scheduling choices in his post-match interview.
Solskjaer had valid complaints: they played on Saturday at 12:30 pm BST despite the fact that the squad has returned to England from their European fixture in Instanbul just two days earlier — and at 4:00 am in the morning at that.
This turnaround is arguably too hard on the players, who are being asked to perform both mentally and physically on very little rest in a schedule pushed tight enough to be bursting in an attempt to get the season’s competitions completed despite the shift caused by the 2019/20 Coronavirus-enforced pause.
Solskjaer did not speak out alone. Following Sunday’s match at the Etihad, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, who lost Trent Alexander-Arnold to a late calf injury attributed by many to the minutes players are being asked to complete, supported his rival’s position explicitly.
“Olé was right ... If the Tuesday teams are in contention now for the Saturday [noon slot], that’s okay. It’s not nice but it’s okay. But the Wednesday teams should not even be in consideration for that game, just not.”
Klopp includes the tight international “break” schedule in his concern as well, noting that the Reds played Everton following a schedule akin to what Manchester United was just asked to slog through.
“On the Wednesday night, some of my players were in Peru. Then we played at 12:30 [on Saturday]. These kinds of things should not happen.”
The two men join Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, who commented recently on the “scar” left by the grueling schedule, particularly notable given that his side, like many, are not in Europe so are not yet playing midweek.
While Klopp and Solskjaer highlighted primarily the tightness of the schedule, Pep Guardiola focused on the Premier League’s choice to revert to three subs rather than five (unlike most other major leagues) in his own post-match interview — a conversation he said began between himself and Klopp at the end of Sunday’s match at the Etihad.
“All leagues all around the world except this one has five subs to protect players because the situation is unusual. The situation today is exceptional.”
Guardiola pointed directly at the injury to Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, seeming to suggest that this injury might bring more attention to the dangers.
“Today, the right-back for the England team is injured,” he told reporters.
Perhaps, he seems to suggest, now that the national side is feeling the effects of the uptick in soft tissue injuries more will be forced to take notice.
That managers are beginning to come together to send out the same message suggests that change might be in the winds. We should hope that change comes, as the health — and performance levels — of our players is at risk.
While at present not all clubs are playing extra games in Europe, once the group stage is over the schedule will condense for everyone. When this happens, thh quality of football on show will likely dip as well, through a mixture of exhaustion and injury. Managers want us to take notice before it’s too late.