Premier League Covid crisis: Scrap the FA Cup? Take a break? What now for the 2020-21 season?
The 2020/21 Premier League calendar has just got even busier after Tottenham vs Fulham was postponed, a few days after Everton vs Manchester City was also called off. What impact will the postponed games have on teams in the second half of the season? Where will they fit in? And could scrapping one of the cup competitions be a solution to help with fixture congestion?
With over half of the season left to play and a finish date of May 23, just 19 days before rescheduled Euro 2020 kicks off, what do the postponements mean for teams and what could the solutions be? Would calling off the FA Cup be an option? Or should there be a 'circuit break' now? We take a look…
The Premier League season started around a month later than usual due to the impact of Covid-19 on the previous campaign, and was scheduled to be played over nine months to finish on May 23, just in time for the rescheduled Euros.
There were some changes made to ease fixture congestion, such as scrapping FA Cup replays and reducing the Carabao Cup semi-finals to one leg, but there was always the prospect of games being postponed due to Covid-19 and having to be re-arranged.
That scenario has now happened, with Aston Villa vs Newcastle called off in early December and Everton vs Man City and Tottenham vs Fulham following this week, along with a number of EFL games over the festive period.
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What impact will the postponements have?
When the fixtures were initially announced there were three dates - March 2, April 20 and May 19 – marked as clear spaces to fit postponed/rescheduled games.
That still might be fine at the moment, if there weren’t more games to reschedule, which there probably will be, even without more Covid-19 postponements.
That’s because seven Premier League sides are still playing in Europe while Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United are also in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup. Plus there’s the FA Cup, with the third round starting on January 8.
Tottenham Hotspur Manager José Mourinho ahead of the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on December 20, 2020 in London, United Kingdom
Image credit: Getty Images
That could mean more fixture clashes and rescheduling if teams reach the latter stages of European competitions and the FA Cup, especially for those also in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup – which are scheduled to be played on January 5 and 6.
Spurs could be particularly impacted and might be back to playing four games in eight days – as they did in late September - if they do well in the Europa League and FA Cup.
In short, for those teams still playing in Europe there isn’t much room left for games in an already-packed calendar.
So what's the solution?
In terms of the Premier League there doesn’t seem to be many options.
A two-week break would only add to the fixture congestion for the busiest clubs and there’s no guarantee that would solve much. There’s also no option to extend the season much further with the Euros coming up shortly afterwards - perhaps they could squeeze in another midweek round after the final scheduled weekend.
Scrapping the FA Cup may seem drastic right now but it would help ease fixture congestion and provide more available dates for postponed games to be played on. There's also concerns with the FA Cup that more games will be postponed as EFL clubs are being impacted by Covid-19 outbreaks. Chelsea, for example, are scheduled in the third round to play Morecambe, who have seen their last two fixtures called off and their training ground shut.
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There is also a round of World Cup 2022 qualifiers in March – with England playing three matches – which could be looked at, although given nobody saw sense in calling off international friendlies this year this might not even be considered.
What could prove problematic is that, according to ESPN, the Premier League don’t have an “agreed plan” in place for the curtailment of the season. So rather than foreseeing this as a potential issue that would need to be acted upon, there would need to be some sort of mid-season agreement from all 20 clubs – who will all have different priorities and issues – on a suspension, which might prove tricky.
The Premier League has managed to just about balance things so far – albeit already by pushing players towards the limit – but how much longer can it continue?