How many times have you read or heard the manager of one of the leading clubs in the Premier League complain about fixture congestion? Or how difficult it is for their big squads of top players having to manage with only three substitutes permitted in each game? Well I haven’t yet heard David Moyes complain about this year’s Christmas schedule, but he damn well should!
I have been having a look at the festive fixtures and don’t believe that any club faces as many games in as short a space of time as West Ham do. With our thin squad it’s going to be a tough ask. All of the 20 teams play their first game of this demanding time over a period of two days on 26th / 27th December. They then play the next round of matches over the following three days, 28th / 29th / 30th. There are no games at all on New Years Eve, and then all the teams play their third festive match over four days 1st / 2nd / 3rd / 4th January. So three games are crammed into a ten day period for all teams.
But they are not equally spread out for all! A couple of examples – Liverpool play their first game of the three on 27th December, and the last on 4th January – 3 matches in 9 games. Southampton (one of our three opponents in the period) play their first game on 26th December and their last on 4th January – 3 games in 10 days! Conversely West Ham are asked to play on 27th and 29th December and then on 1st January. Our three games are all squeezed into six days! From the kick-off in the first to the end of the third game it will be around 125 hours – that is a little over 5 days.
So we face the teams 17th, 7th and 4th in the table in a period of time that I believe is shorter than any of the other 19 teams in the Premier League. And it’s not as if we don’t have to travel either. The first game is at home in London, then we travel to away games on the South Coast and then finally Merseyside. It’s hardly fair is it? Not a level playing field to quote a popular phrase banded about. And what of our opponents in the second and third fixtures? Well Southampton are second up and they will have an extra day’s rest before facing us after their first game in the period. And Everton will similarly have an additional day without playing after their second match of the three.
I’d like to think that the club will complain about the unfair way we have been treated, but even if we did I doubt that it would get us anywhere. The fixtures are all lined up to satisfy the TV companies, not for the good of the clubs or the players.
14 games have been played so far this season and we have 21 points. When you look at the equivalent 14 fixtures in the last campaign we picked up 13 points from them so we are currently +8. In the three games coming up over the Christmas period, the equivalent fixtures last time yielded 4 points (a draw at home to Brighton, a win at Southampton, and a defeat at Everton). How many will we pick up this time? Three wins would give us nine points, to take us up to 30 for the season, or three defeats would leave us on 21, and into the bottom half of the table. I reckon that given the closeness of the fixtures and the calibre of our opponents, three wins is not likely to be achieved. We would be doing well to match or exceed last season’s equivalent of four points from these games. I’d love it to be more but I just don’t think that we have the squad or the rest time to enable us to achieve more. One win and a draw or two would be quite an achievement given the difficulties we face.
Once the festive fixtures have been completed we have a break from league games to face a game at Stockport County in the FA Cup on 11th January before completing the first half of the season (all 19 teams will have been played) with winnable (on paper) home games against Burnley on 16th January and West Brom three days later on the 19th. So how many points will we have at the halfway stage of the season? It would be good to reach 30 points by then, but that will require at least three wins in the next five games. And we are not always entirely convincing when facing teams that we should perhaps be beating. In the equivalent 19 fixtures last season we accrued 20 points, so we have already exceeded that with another five games to go, but how many points will we collect in these five matches?
I worry about the depth of our squad at times like these when fixtures are congested into a short period. But that is an issue that we knew about during the last close season and little was done to rectify matters at the top level within the club. I wonder if this will be remedied during this mid-season transfer window? I won’t hold my breath as there are difficulties in recruiting quality players at this time of year. Perhaps we can have a look in Prague?