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International break: a help or hindrance for Premier League teams and their players?

Caitlin Murray discusses some of the benefits of the international break in the football calendar. 

This season’s Premier League fixture list has been jam-packed to say the least. Monday 22nd March 2021 was just the 10th day of the year so far that not one Premier League team played a game. For the millions of avid football fans around the world, like myself, the 2020-2021 season has been an all-you-can-eat buffet of sporting entertainment, with English teams competing in the Premier League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup, Champions League and Europa League. Yet, while this international break has offered football fans an opportunity to take a pause from football and reconnect with the real world, the same cannot be said for the majority of players in England’s Premier League. With FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers and international friendlies aplenty, these international stars have been whisked back to their respective home-nations, expected to continue performing without any significant time to rest and recover.

The necessity of international fixtures must be questioned, especially given the current climate within which they are being played. This view has been echoed by a number of Premier League managers, including Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, with the former warning that this international break could lead to an increase in Covid-19 cases. More than this, a number of managers, such as the newly appointed Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel and Aston Villa’s Dean Smith went as far as to block their players from travelling to ‘red zone’ countries for international duty. The ‘blocking’ of players from travelling to these countries by Premier League managers was so influential that CONMEBOL decided to postpone World Cup qualifiers due to be played this month in South America. 

Given the number of games being played this season in quick succession, international fixtures only add to players’ fatigue. The first Premier League fixture following the break is a 12:30 kick off on Saturday 3rd April which grants some players as little as two days to recover and be ready to return their attention to domestic matches. Given that we are quickly approaching the crunch point of the season, many Premier League teams will rightfully see this international break as a disruption to momentum and will be hoping they can avoid the common post-international break ‘hangover’ that affects even the teams with the largest squads to select from.

However, the issue of fixture congestion is not unique to the Premier League, with fans of the Championship outfit Norwich fans hoping their on-loan star Oliver Skipp will be available for their upcoming fixtures as they continue their push for promotion. The midfielder is currently at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship with England and is expected to play on Wednesday 31st March in an all-important group stage clash with Croatia U-21, less than two days before Norwich’s game against Preston. 

For other teams, this international break could not have come at a better time and will likely be welcomed by managers and players alike. Such is the case for Newcastle who have a number of key players out injured at present, including Allan Saint-Maximin and their top scorer this season, Callum Wilson. With a tough list of fixtures awaiting them in the coming weeks and months, not to mention a battle to stay in the Premier League, Steve Bruce will surely see this break as an opportunity to get his star players two weeks closer to a return. 

This break offers some international team managers an opportunity to witness their players in action before finalising their squads for the upcoming UEFA Euro 2020 championship scheduled for this summer. Equally, many players will be hoping to impress their managers as they target a place in their managers squad for this summer’s tournament. Therefore, while for some players this international break and its associated fixtures may be more of a chore and burden than anything else, for some European players the break is an opportunity to raise their profile by representing their country on an international stage.

Only time will tell whether this international break was successful, or indeed a wise decision at all. What is for sure is that Premier League managers will be keeping a keen eye on these international fixtures, desperate to ensure that their stars return fit and Covid-free ready to complete this long and arduous 2020-2021 season.

Image credit: jarmoluk via Pixabay

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