The beginning of January is probably the most hated time of the year for Premier League clubs. Unlike their continental counterparts, they do not have a winter break to recharge and ready themselves for a busy spring and summer. For some, the three-week period sees an increase in the number of games because of the Boxing Day match tradition. Then, after the calendars turn to a new year, it’s time for the final rounds of the League Cup and the third round of the FA Cup.
Every summer there is a major tournament or needed cash grab friendlies, so the season cannot begin sooner or end later. So what is the Premier League to do in order to keep its players healthy and the competition at a high level?
While a number of suggestions have been debated, one has not and probably will not, although it may make the most overall sense. There is a way to build a winter break into the schedule as well as create more time for other tournaments throughout the season, in addition to accomplishing the goals stated above. However, because there is so much money tied into playing in the Premier League — and hosting 19 home matches — this suggestion probably will never be taken seriously. Yet when you stop and think about it, the idea actually could work.
I speak, of course, about shrinking the top flight of the English soccer pyramid from 20 to 16 teams.
Practically it is easy to do. Beginning in the 2016-2017 season and ending in the 2019-2020 season, four teams are relegated while only three are promoted. The number of league games would decline, but it would also condition fans and the media to the new, more streamlined schedule.
Why does this idea make sense?
Fewer league games means more open dates for breaks or other tournaments
Teams would go from playing 38 league games to 30, which frees up eight game day slots. If the Premier League were smart, they would parlay this into a winter break, but at the least they could build-in fewer midweek games or lessen the Boxing Day congestion. This also means less wear-and-tear on the players and fewer major injuries for the teams competing in the Champions League. Because of fewer games and more rest, it would even the playing field slightly against teams like Bayern Munich and Barcelona who have winter breaks.
The overall quality of play would improve with the bottom three clubs being a higher quality than they are now
If the Premier League had only 16 teams this season, Chelsea would be in the “relegation zone.” While it’s unusual for an England superclub to be that far down the table, the fact is there are fewer points available during a season; teams that in a 20-team league that would be mid-table would now be in a relegation fight or a fight for a European spot. By the end of the season, almost every team would be playing for something; or, at least, playing another team playing for something.
Subsequently, the quality of play in the Championship would improve
With better teams being relegated and more turnover, the quality of play one league down would improve. While teams may sell off after relegation, their solid cores would make them more likely to be strong challengers for promotion, thus pulling the rest of the league up with them.
So would the FA Cup and League Cup
With fewer top flight slots available, you would have four more teams (the now 17-20th teams) that would view these two competitions as their chance to prove they can play with Premier League teams. Fewer top flight games means more starting players would be available for these competitions.
There are a number of reasons (money, TV money, stadium money, UEFA rules) why this plan would not happen. But if it did, the benefits to the league, teams and FA could be immense.
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