Injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, among others, have proven to be a great leveler in the title race so far. But as the season shifts from January to February, March to April, as the race heats up, Klopp’s biggest concern is that his team is running out of steam, that the packed game list is catching up to his team, will be relaxed.
Now is not the time to redo the current timeline inflicted by COVID. Playing multiple games in a short period of time is not a good thing. This weakens the flow of matches, damages the product (ugh), restricts the style of play (something that hits some teams more than others) and increases the chances of injury.
A team playing a bunch of games in a short period of time is a competitive disadvantage. But as Liverpool look to the end of the season, everyone play a bunch of games in a condensed window.
When Klopp takes a look at his Premier League title rivals, he will be delighted to note the future prospects for direct rivals Tottenham and Man City.
As things are planned, the England national season is due to be completed on May 23. There’s no more wiggle room in the schedule – not for COVID rescheduling or a delay in the season or whatever. Time should be kept open for continental competitions, the shorter the breaks the shorter the players should be released for international duty.
May 23 is the date. The Europa League final is scheduled for May 26. The Champions League final is dated May 29. If Tottenham organized a race in the Europa League, if José Mourinho’s side managed the table until the final (and based on that of this season). proof, it is certainly possible), they would be forced to press 38 games in 123 days.
Think about it! This constitutes one game every three days. It also includes of them four-game weeks. And that doesn’t include a three-game, 14-day international break that was slipped into the schedule at the end of March.
With Europe on the schedule (and Spurs ownership will want the club to continue in the Europa League in order to make up for losses from the pandemic), football officials are asking Spurs to wrap up a full season within 123 days.
It is objectively crazy. It will be painful for the team. And it’s a team that only has around 16 quality players that Mourinho can count on, that could lose Dele Ali this window, and that is too dependent on two players: Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. Mourinho will be looking to juggle the pieces, but maintaining form, fitness and pace (his own staff will be exhausted) will be a tall order.
Pep Guardiola is facing a similar problem at Man City. Guardiola’s team reached another Carabao Cup final. Considering the FA Cup draw this week, they should comfortably advance two more rounds (first Crawley in round four, then a guaranteed Championship club in round five). If City advance to the FA Cup final, which is entirely reasonable, and, say, qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals, they will have to play 33 games by the end of the season. In fact, City’s season is so crowded due to the club’s COVID issues that if they reach the FA Cup final and get to the semi-finals of the Champions League, they will be at their absolute limit regarding the possibility of seizing the season – there is no more room for further delays. Add to that: they would play every midweek between now and the end of the season.
It is an unenviable position. A punishment, really, for being competitive in all areas (besides the aforementioned COVID concerns). Few, if any, teams can keep up with this pace. Even City, with all of their riches, aren’t as deep as they’ve been in recent seasons. While once Guardiola’s second string looked like it could compete for a place in the Premier League’s top four, it is now made up of aging players, often injured former stars and players brimming with potential but lacking consistency.
The depth of the city always blows the furthest out of the league out of the water. And if a team could (or should) be able to keep up with the demands, it is that team. But it’s still a waiting situation. The injuries will increase. Fatigue will set in. And once the legs start to burn, where will Guardiola grow his fleas? Europe or the title of champion? Probably the first.
The more you assess the pitch, the clearer the questions about the title race become:
- Can Liverpool prevent further injuries? Can they find consistency? Can they find an adjustment to stop the lack of top center-backs setting off a chain reaction on the team’s offensive play?
- Is United’s form sustainable? Are the first line digits or the underlying digits real? Can a team that sinks as one (Bruno Fernandes) win the title?
- Can Man City resist a stack of matches? At the end of the season, will Guardiola give priority to the Champions League?
Reading these questions, something becomes clear: the first three seem to be the easiest to answer.
Sunday’s game is a giant game however you slice it up. But once you start looking at the type of Tottenham and Man City squad schedules, you start to get a feeling that a Liverpool-Manchester United title race could be a real thing. And in this world, an imposing and authoritative victory at this point in the season would mean much more than three points.