Should shorter games be an option?

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The chief of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), Gordon Taylor, suggested that the Premier League and English Football League (EFL) could play shorter games for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

However, there has since been further reports that the Premier League and EFL are not considering shortening games as part of the plans to resume.

With the season suspended, the Premier League is hoping to resume training on May 18 ahead of a possible restart on June 12 but all of that hinges on the latest update on lockdown measures from the UK government later this week, as clubs will then vote on the proposals in the ‘project restart’ plan.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today show, Taylor said playing shorter games was a possibility being looked at.

“We’ll have to wait and see. I’m talking about a protocol that’s coming out. I’m talking about the future. We don’t know the future. What we do know is what propositions have been put, what ideas have been put, the possibility of having more substitutes, games possibly not being the full 45 minutes each way. There’s talks of neutral stadiums. There’s been lots of things being put forward. Try and wait and see what the proposals are, and then have the courtesy to let the managers and coaches and players also assimilate all those and come to a considered view.”

The Premier League released a statement last Friday after the latest meeting of clubs and said that players and managers would be closely consulted on the next steps, as many have aired concerns about resuming play during the coronavirus pandemic.

When it comes to player welfare, the obvious concern is about players and staff contracting COVID-19 during games and training. But the secondary concern is about injuries and playing so many games over a short space of time to try and finish the season. Hence, the idea to shorten games. Would 60-minute PL games be welcomed? Could teams play every other day if the games are shortened to 60 minutes and finish the season in just over two weeks?

Compromises are going to have to be made and with clubs and other key figures suggesting the integrity of the season may be impacted by playing games in neutral venues, surely they wouldn’t be happy with shorter games too?

Would certain teams who train to play at high intensity for short bursts benefit more? Would teams who play defensively and soak up pressure then hit opponents on the counter be at a disadvantage? There are so many arguments to consider here but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. FIFA wants teams to be able to use five subs per game and that seems like a better option than shortening games.

Limiting the amount of time players and coaches spend actually coming up against other people from outside their sanitized bubble makes sense. But if that is a concern, surely games aren’t in a position to return safely at all? If it is all about fatigue and there’s a plan in place to finish the season in a few weeks, this may not be the worst idea we’ve heard so far. It’s certainly not the best, though.