I’m going to start this blog with a blindingly obvious statement that just so happens to be the elephant in the room for the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Gary Lineker, Jim White et al.
The cause of fixture congestion in English football is the Champions League and the Europa League.
There, I’ve said it. Can I encourage you all to state it, too.
Not the FA Cup and its inconvenient replays. Not the League Cup and its two legged Semi-Final. No, it is the Japanese Knotweed like European competitions that are causing the fixture pile up.
But, unsurprisingly this is an inconvenient truth for those who gain financially from the bloated Champions League, and so it is the FA Cup and its country cousin, the Carabao Cup, that get the blame for fixture congestion in the English game.
Let’s look at some real numbers, conveniently expressed through Manchester City’s domestic treble last season compared with Liverpool’s Champions League success.
The most games Manchester City could have played in winning both the League Cup and FA Cup last season was fourteen. That was the most, they only actually had to play a dozen games.
But, what about Liverpool? How many games did they need to play to lift the Champions League? Well there were six group games, two games in the Round of Sixteen, two games in the Quarter Finals, two games in the Semi-Finals, and the Final itself.
A grand total of 13 matches. One more than Manchester City needed to win both domestic cups.
So, purely on actual number of games needed to be played, the real cause of fixture congestion is the Champions League. But wait, there’s more.
UEFA decree that there can be no top-flight club league games on the nights when Champions League games take place. So for each of the six weeks of group matches before Christmas there can be no Premier League football. And for each knockout round after Christmas there can be no Premier League football.
But they’re not finished yet. Not by a long chalk. No, each leg of the knockout stages is now spread over four weeks instead of two, meaning there are nine more weeks of non-available evenings for Premier League matches to be played.
Fifteen weeks of Champions League football when no Premier League games can be played.
And what happens as a consequence of not being able to play games on these weeks? There is a glut of Premier League games played throughout the Christmas period followed immediately by the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, where clubs can play four to five matches in the space of 20 days or less.
And then all the Premier League managers, well usually those involved in European football, complain about fixture congestion and demand that FA Cup replays are removed and the League Cup is abolished.
But, as shown above, the domestic cups are not what are causing the problem. Getting rid of FA Cup replays to alleviate fixture congestion is like getting rid of tonic in your G&T to resolve your alcoholism.
So what could really be done to alleviate fixture congestion? Well, the Champions League and Europa League group stages could go for a start.
Six weeks to halve the number of clubs from 32 down to sixteen clubs when a two-legged knockout could do the same in two weeks would free up four weeks in the football calendar, four weeks when Premier League games could be played.
And if there were four more weeks when Premier League games could be played then that means some of the games currently crammed into the Christmas period could be moved to alleviate congestion at that time of the year and keep players fresh for when the FA Cup 3rd Round comes around.
But of course this will not happen. The ‘Money First Football Nowhere’ culture of the big clubs and football administrators means that there will actually be more European games and not fewer.
All UEFA and the big European clubs care about is how to make more lucre for the few without a care for the game as a whole.
And the really sad thing is, that someone like Gary Lineker, who has made his whole living on the back of the game we all love, gets into bed with this kind of thinking.
So ensconced is he in thinking only of the few elite clubs, he then recommends pathetic ideas like Non-League teams playing their FA Cup games at the end of the previous season, to enable the 3rd Round to be played earlier in order to ease congestion for Premier League clubs in January.
All for the benefit of the top few Premier League teams and to the detriment to football as a whole.
Let’s get this elephant in the room more visible by calling out those who claim the FA Cup replays and the League Cup are the cause of fixture congestion.