This is how the week in football starting September 10 went.
Saturday—Manchester derby. Sunday and Monday—more league matches. Tuesday—Barcelona’s 7-0 demolition of Celtic in the Champions League. Wednesday—amazing last-minute comeback by Real Madrid against Sporting Portugal. Thursday—Manchester United humiliated in the Europa League by Feyenoord. Friday—Another big one, Chelsea versus Liverpool.
This is not even taking into account the La Liga, Bundesliga or the Serie A. But this is not a recap of the week’s action, nor is it to say that while all others won, Manchester United slumped to their third straight defeat under Jose Mourinho against Watford on September 18, but that there is live football virtually every day of the week somewhere or the other.
Excellent for the neutral fan but can that be said about the football on display?
Just a few years back, managers, including the ones at the top like Sir Alex Ferguson with all the riches and squad depth, kicked up a fuss if they were playing a European fixture on a Wednesday night and were in action the following Saturday, citing jet lag, fatigue and a lack of time to prepare. Fast forward a couple of years and thousands of miles away from the glamour of European football, even players and coaches in the Indian Super League felt the schedule was too congested for the players.
Is there now too much football? And more importantly, is it any good?
Going back to the Manchester derby on September 10, United lost 1-2 to Manchester City in what was an excellent game. But the players were deflated, understandably so, after a loss to their bitter rivals, and just days later were again sent out to do the job against Feyenoord. They lost 0-1 in a competition that, judging by the squad selection, even the manager does not seem to take seriously. Travel back to England on Friday, training on Saturday and then on Sunday, they lost 1-3 to Watford. In both the matches following that City defeat, United looked unprepared, bored and lethargic.
The EPL no longer has a sponsor. It is no longer ‘Barclays Premier League’ and all the money being made is from the £5.14 billion (approximately Rs 44,730 crore) TV deal that has made it the most prosperous league in football. But at what cost? A minimum of 12 matches will be played on a Friday during the 2016-17 season, and they are here to stay, if not go up. Where then is the time to prepare? So, coaches rotate squads, give the youth a chance while fielding a weakened team that doesn’t gel and then go back to their first XI, some of whom were in action just 48 hours earlier.
It may seem like United is at fault since Manchester City and Leicester too played midweek and then followed up with league wins, but the bigger picture is different. While United were rubbish in the latter two losses, their week is an example of what is going to follow for English teams over the season.
Already without a winter break, Friday night football will take a toll on the league as a whole once the FA Cup and EFL Cup fixtures (coming week) are on in full swing.