The power of the Premier League risks being dampened by another season of flows | premier league
OWelcome, again, upside down. As the Premier League enters its third season of cut and closed schedules, again relegated to an insistent voice on the brink of bigger things, it’s tempting to wonder exactly when this state of flux will end; how the self-proclaimed most important league in the world will ever find its way back from the dark place. Or, indeed, if things ever go back to quite the same.
It’s been, let’s face it, three years now. A competition that bases its existence on grabbing the foreground, on being not the B-movie or the short film, but the First, will once again find themselves backbreaking with truly mind-boggling logistics.
Like every other league, and indeed every other life, the last time England’s top tier could envision a cloudless future was the pre-Covid lull of early 2020. led to a total shutdown, half an hour of summer. life, a Super League insurrection, a winter of fire talks and canceled dates and the forced sale of one of its defining member clubs.
Needless to say, this is all deeply off-brand. More than any other competition, the voice of the Premier League is about control and certainty, days and weeks – super Sundays, Monday nights, a complete TV blank from September to May – dominated by this internal tone of homogenized triumphalism. Like it or not, this voice has become a little wrung out, the presence of the idol of the morning a little stretched, bow tie askew, clinging to the balustrade.
As the league kicks off at Selhurst Park on Friday, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate exactly how this thing is going to play out from here. Welcome to the season with a hole, 10 months during which the whole calendar must remain in place, like a steering wheel detached from its gears, while a forced winter World Cup is played out. Stranger things have happened over the past three years of disbanding, but it’s going to push everyone involved to their limits.
The first installment, which we might call Block 1, runs from August 6 to September 17, a series of eight Premier League games and two Champions League rounds. After that we have two quick international friendlies, the last warm-ups before Qatar.
Then comes block 3 from October 1 to November 5, eight more league matches and four more in the Champions League. Block 4 is the World Cup itself, a quick switch to Arabic standard time and a maximum of seven games between November 21 and December 18. Then back to Nordic Winter and Block 5, three Premier League games in a week, Boxing Day to January 2. At that point, saison is free to emerge gasping and hissing, clinging to the nearest rock and wondering exactly what just happened.
There will be breakages along the way, and twists to the ruggedness of the season. Take, for example, Harry Kane, who tends to play all the games he can, as well as some he can’t. Over the next five months, Kane could play up to 34 games under three different world orders – Premier League, UEFA, Fifa – criss-crossing the UK, mainland Europe and the Gulf. There will, of course, be teams of analysts studying how to peak during this time, when to rest those red-zone muscle fibers. But there are also endless unintended consequences.
England’s provisional World Cup squad is due to be announced on October 21, with three league and two Champions League games still to be played. This has never happened before, the league season skewed like this by outside pressures. How will this affect players and selections? Are you really going to give 200% in 94 minutes against Wolves away if your knee has started to snap and the date for the Qatar 2022 final is three days away?
The same is true after the World Cup. Players fired within the first 10 days will be geared up for the restart. Lose a semi-final and there will be broken souls coming back to take over. Last season, Mohamed Salah scored 23 of 26 goals before the Africa Cup of Nations, and eight of 28 after. Never mind Covid. Never mind the transfer madness after the World Cup which arrives for the first time in mid-season. It already looks like the most feverish period.
That should be a source of trouble too. Part of the big public uproar last summer was the idea that the European Super League would destroy domestic season structures. Take a look at the shockwaves of Qatar 2022 and it seems pretty clear that the same forces in another form – nation-state football greed, as opposed to cartel club greed – have achieved the same thing in a different angle.
And while there’s currently nothing in place to prevent next season from returning, four years later in calm waters, it’s easy to feel a bit skeptical. Another Super League hubbub, another act of force majeure, another ripple, another rupture. Time continues to pass. That seems like a reasonable question. Have we seen the best of this thing yet?
This is perhaps an unduly catastrophic, end-of-the-century view. There is still a great thirst for Premier League products and ring-fenced broadcast revenue. Even in the intervening years, the standard and level of interest remained remarkably high. But in anticipation of what might actually happen, there are still some notes of unease.
On the one hand, the Premier League field looks stronger than ever. On the other hand, Spurs spent much of the summer as the third favorites to win it. The change of ownership at Chelsea has thinned the playing field, in a league where Manchester City’s title dominance risks becoming a bit unremarkable for the neutral.
The Premier League is, we mean (mostly the Premier League) never outdated and never fixed. Perhaps the new season can present us with something truly valuable, if not new champions, then new challengers, a platoon bolter energized by these outside forces.
It still seems strange to suggest that a Manchester United revival could be an attractive story for underdogs, although Erik ten Hag’s initial clarity has already been undermined by a familiar whiff of rotten and famous club culture. Arsenal have recruited well but remain, in the end, Arsenal. Maybe a team with fewer World Cup players, Aston Villa or Crystal Palace or Brighton, could make a real play for the top four.
Otherwise, Liverpool will still be very strong. City will be challenged by an intriguing tactical retread around this surprising new presence up front. But they will also benefit from the World Cup break: the Pep-Erling interface should be defined by hard work over these few weeks.
At the other end, it’s hard to look past at least two struggling promoted clubs, and other swings from Everton, as well as Leeds who are hard to call anyway.
Beyond that, we can enjoy the benefits of using five substitutes and some younger referee appointments. Plus, in a reassuring note of normalcy, there’s yet another ball. The Nike Flight is basically the same as the previous ball. This AerowSculpt technology “always gives a truer flight”. But the ball will also bear markings reminiscent of the very first Premier League ball in 1992.
It feels like a strangely soothing note of nostalgia in strange times. Keep moving forward. It will also pass. But not without another season of dangerous living.