Revealed: 25 games in three months - the unprecedented workload on England stars ahead of World Cup

·4-min read
Reece James goes down injured - GETTY IMAGES
Reece James goes down injured - GETTY IMAGES

Premier League players will face unprecedented workloads amid the frantic rush to squeeze in fixtures before the World Cup starts in November.

Analysis by Telegraph Sport has revealed the extent of the extra burden being placed on top-flight players given the changes brought to an already congested schedule by the controversial decision to host the World Cup in the winter for the first time.

The Premier League’s European representatives will be some of the worst affected. Those seven clubs are due to play, on average, almost seven more games between the start of the season on August 5 and November 12 - the final weekend before a six-week hiatus for the tournament - than the corresponding period last season.

West Ham United, for example, will have to play 25 games in three months - the most of any team in the top flight and eight more than the corresponding period last season when they were also in Europe.

Arsenal, who were not in Europe last term, face an additional nine games while champions Manchester City and Liverpool - whose managers Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have been vocal critics in the past of football’s increasingly punishing schedules - will have six and seven more respectively.

Manchester United have an extra seven matches compared to the same period last season, Chelsea five more and Tottenham an additional four games.

October will be the biggest pinch point with those clubs each facing nine fixtures in that month alone, although international players will be spared any matches for their respective countries that month and play one fewer international fixture in September.

The Champions League and Europa League group stages - which involve each club playing six matches - are due to be concluded before the World Cup commences when, ordinarily, that would not be the case until the first week of December.

Clubs are also facing an additional five Premier League fixtures in this period compared to last season, despite the new campaign only being due to start a week earlier than normal.

It is not just the European entrants who are impacted, though. Newcastle and Crystal Palace both face an extra six matches compared to the same period last season, with Wolves, Aston Villa and Everton braced to play five more, provided they reach the third round of the Carabao Cup, with those ties scheduled for Nov 8/9. Brighton, Brentford, Southampton and Leeds face an extra four matches.

Only Leicester face the same number of games (18) up to the break for the World Cup as last season owing to them not being in European competition this time around.

The three promoted clubs, Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest, will each play one fewer game than the same period last season when they were in the Championship.

On average, the 20 Premier League clubs - including the three newcomers - will be tasked with playing an additional five games over the three months to the pause for the World Cup than the corresponding period last term.

The worrying statistics will increase fears of the threat of player burnout. Kevin De Bruyne, the Manchester City midfielder, has been one of several high-profile players to criticise the unrelenting football calendar.

As revealed by Telegraph Sport, the traditional festive round of Premier League matches between Boxing Day and the New Year has been dropped from schedules in a move to ease worries about player fatigue after the World Cup.

However, the workload facing Premier League players before the tournament begins could spark just as many concerns.

Players’ unions and England manager Gareth Southgate have already warned that the coming months could end up being one of the most arduous seasons for teams on record.

Fifpro has been demanding reform over the “excessive workloads” facing players. The global players’ union has been particularly concerned about the number of games players are being asked to play in what is called the “critical zone”, which refers to two appearances of at least 45 minutes within less than five days.

Cumulative exposure to minutes in the critical zone can have a detrimental impact on a player’s health, performance and career longevity, according to Fifpro, which says 90 per cent of high-performance coaches are backing no more than 55 matches per season.

The scheduling of the Uefa Nations League fixtures, which extended an already long season due to the lingering impact of the Covid pandemic and only concluded on Tuesday, drew criticism.

Some Premier League players are due to report back for testing next week and numerous clubs are in line to commence pre-season training on June 27, although players who have been involved in the internationals will report back later.

Many clubs face busy pre-season schedules, including overseas tours, the option of which has been largely denied to them for the past two years due to Covid.

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