The new Premier League fixture list has the Football Association’s panties in a bundle.
After politiely requesting that the Premier League hold off on staging “box-office” matches before England’s World Cup qualifiers, the league went ahead and did exactly that – scheduling two blockbuster matches before the Three Lions’ double header against might Moldova and the Ukraine.
Here’s how it breaks down.
On August 31st one of the best rivalries in club football kicks off when Liverpool welcomes Manchester United to Anfield. One day later it is the first installment of the North London derby with Tottenham heading to the Emirates for a clash with Arsenal.
Five days after the Arsenal-Tottenham match the national team faces Moldova at Wembley before heading to Kiev where they will battle Ukraine on September 10th.
Fair play to the FA for being concerned over the match schedule, especially since they requested the league work with them on the issue. The fact is, if England are to qualify for the World Cup they need to win against Moldova and Ukraine.
England currently sit second in Group H on 12 points through six matches. The Three Lions are two points adrift of leader’s Montenegro although England enjoys a game in hand. One point behind England is Ukraine, who also have played six matches. Moldova are second from bottom on five points, eliminating them from qualifying for the World Cup.
The FA’s main concern is that the intensity of these “box-office” matches may increase the injury risk to players. The list of those who will play in those marquee matches and could potentially be involved in the national team as quite long – Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard, Stewart Downing, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Daniel Strurridge, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney, Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshire, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kyle Walker, Aaron Lennon, Michael Dawson, Steven Caulker and Scott Parker.
But does those players involvement in competitive Premier League matches before facing Moldova and Ukraine really make it more likely they will be injured?
Doubtful. In fact, those players would have just as much of a chance of injury (if not more) if they were matched up against, say, Stoke City or Sunderland. (Apologies Potters and Black Cats supporters, but, you know…)
The FA is also concerned that the intensity of those blockbuster league matches could tire the players. But do players really drain themselves more against certain opposition that others? That, too, would seem to be a very speculative argument.
Further rubbishing the FA’s concerns is that the first qualifier is at home against Moldova, a nation that England thrashed 5-0 when the two sides met last September. That match should be a walk in the park for Roy Hodgson’s men.
The real issue for England has to do with the incredibly tight schedule it faces, having to play Moldova and then immediately hop on a trans-European flight to the Ukraine to play a hotly contested match four days later.