Sports Science Analysis of the Premier League's Festive Fixture Calendar
When the Premier League announced last week that the Wolves vs. Chelsea game is now scheduled for Christmas Eve, it marked the first such fixture in 28 years. At least one supporters group is already seeking to reverse the decision. Although many fans will relish another day on the Christmas football TV schedule.
As a child, I loved our family tradition of going to watch a game over the Christmas period. But that vantage point shifts when one transitions from a fan to a professional associated with the game. Let's also not forget that for many countries, including many European and Latin American cultures, Christmas Eve is actually the main day of celebration.
Christmas fixtures in the Premier League are one of the most congested periods in the English football calendar. In stark contract, many global leagues opt for a winter break. One of the studies from UEFA Elite Club Injury group (Ekstrand et al., 2019) found the lack of a winter break in English teams was associated with a higher injury burden and incidence of severe injuries than European teams with a winter break.
Drawing parallels with the NBA's latest regulations around 'load monitoring', the Premier League is (presumably) trying to balance the commercial benefits of the festive football tradition, with the health and wellbeing of the players. They assert that they design the calendar with athlete recovery in mind, stating:
"As in previous seasons, special arrangements have been made to allow more time between games played across the three festive matchweeks. This will allow greater time for players to recover, with the rest periods between matchweeks 18, 19 and 20 being increased to ensure that no club plays within 60 hours of another match."
BBC Sport, in its analysis, spotlighted these between-game recovery durations and the cumulative timeframe from game 1 to game 3 kick off for each club. Despite this minimum of 60 hours between games, research indicates that male footballers might necessitate a full 72-hours to normalise physical performance (Nedelec et al., 2012).
So time between games will undoubtedly be considered by sports science practitioners. In addition, the game locations and travel demands are an important factor. In the figure below, I have depicted the Premier League festive fixture list, and included a comparison across the league for travel demands (Away Miles) and recovery time (3-game Time).
Please note, Man City vs Brentford is TBC due to Man City's involvement in the FIFA World Club Cup in Saudi Arabia. For this reason, Man City are not given a mileage total, and neither Brentford or Man City are given a 3-game total time.
Both on this blog and in my consultancy work, I underscore the need for meticulous strategising of a team's training plan around their competitive schedule. I see this process as a potential competitive advantage, or disadvantage if teams do it poorly!
With the Premier League fixtures now confirmed (except for Man City v Brentford), it will be up to the teams to try to best plan, execute, and adjust their training and recovery schedule for the busy festive period.