TueWelcome, once again, upside down. As the Premier League enters its third season of jarring schedules, once again relegated to an insistent voice on the brink of bigger events, it’s tempting to wonder exactly when this state of flux will end; at what point will the self-proclaimed most important league in the world ever find its way out of a dark place. Or, in fact, if things are ever going to be the same again.
It’s been, let’s face it, three years. A competition that bases its existence on capturing the foreground, on being not a B-flick or short film, but Premier, again find himself frazzled by some truly mind-boggling logistics.
As in every other league, and indeed in every other life, the last time the English top flight had the opportunity to reflect on a bright future was the lull before the pandemic at the beginning of 2020. The years that followed saw a complete closure, a summer half life, an uprising in the Super League, a winter of fire safety talk, canceled concerts, and the forced sale of one of its member clubs.
Needless to say, all of this is deeply off-brand. More than in any other competition, the Premier League’s voice is about control and confidence, with days and weeks – Super Sundays, Monday nights, total TV whiteness from September to May – dominated by this inner tone of homogenized triumphalism. Like it or not, that voice became a little squeezed, the presence of the morning idol stretched a little, the bow tie flew off to one side, clinging to the balustrade.
As the league ramps up Friday at Selhurst Park, it’s worth taking the time to assess exactly how things will play out. Welcome to season with a hole in it, 10 months during which the entire calendar must remain in place like a flywheel torn off its gears while the forced winter world championship is played out. Strange things have happened in the last three years of the dissolution, but this will push all the members beyond their limits.
The first edition, which we could call Block 1, will run from 6 August to 17 September and consists of eight Premier League games and two Champions League rounds. After that, we will have two quick international friendly matches, the last warm-up before Qatar.
Block 3 follows from 1 October to 5 November, eight more league games and four more in the Champions League. Block 4 is the World Cup itself, fast-forward to Arabic Standard Time, and a maximum of seven matches between 21 November and 18 December. Then northern winter again and Block 5, three Premier League games in the week from Boxing Day to 2 January. At this point, the season may appear, gasping and wheezing, clinging to a nearby rock and wondering exactly what just happened.
Along the way there will be breakdowns and distortions of the strength of the season. Take Harry Kane, for example, who tries to play all the games he can, as well as the ones he can’t. Over the next five months, Kane is set to play 34 matches across three different world orders – Premier League, UEFA, FIFA – in the UK, Continental Europe and the Gulf States. Of course, there will be groups of analysts studying how to peak during this period, when to rest the muscle fibers with red zones. But there are also endless unintended consequences.
England’s preliminary squad for the World Cup is due to be announced on 21 October, with three more league games and two more Champions League games to go. This has never happened before, the league season was ruined by external pressure. How will this affect players and outcomes? Are you really going to give 200% in 94 minutes against the Wolves if your knee starts to click and the Qatar 2022 final roster date is three days away?
The same is true after the World Cup. Players fired within the first 10 days will be preparing to restart. Lose in the semi-finals and some broken souls will return to make up for lost time. Last season, Mohamed Salah scored 23 of 26 goals before the Africa Cup of Nations and eight of 28 after. Don’t care about Covid. Not to mention the post-World Cup transfer frenzy, which first came in the middle of the season. It already looks like the most hectic times.
This should also be a source of concern. Part of the big public uprising last summer was the idea that the European Super League would destroy the structure of the domestic season. Take a look at the shockwaves of Qatar in 2022 and it becomes clear that the same forces in a different guise – the greed of national football as opposed to the greed of cartel clubs – achieved the same thing from a different angle.
And while there’s nothing currently to stop next season from being a return to placid waters four years from now, it’s easy to feel a touch of skepticism. Another hype in the Super League, another force majeure, another wave, another break. Time keeps going. Seems like a reasonable question. Have we already seen the best of it?
Perhaps this is an overly doomed fin de siècle look. There is still huge demand for Premier League products and limited broadcast revenue. Even between the 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 seems stronger than ever. On the other hand, the Spurs were the third favorite to win for most of the summer. The change in ownership at Chelsea has reduced the margin in the league where Manchester City’s title dominance can become routine for a neutral player.
The Premier League, as we hear (most often from the Premier League), has never stagnated and never stood still. Perhaps the new season can give us something of real value, if not new champions, then new challengers, a bolter from the pack fueled by these outside forces.
It still seems odd to suggest that a Manchester United resurgence could be a compelling underdog story, though Erik ten Hag’s early clarity has already been undermined by the familiar smell of rotten, celebrity club culture. Arsenal scored well, but in the end they remained Arsenal. Perhaps a team with fewer World Cup players like Aston Villa, Crystal Palace or Brighton could really play for the top four.
Otherwise, Liverpool will still be very strong. City will challenge an intriguing tactical overhaul of this striking new presence ahead. But they will also benefit from the break for the World Cup: Pep-Erling’s interaction will likely be defined by some furious work during these few weeks.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to notice that at least two advanced clubs are struggling and some further hesitation from Everton, as well as Leeds, who are hard to equalize anyway.
In addition, we can take advantage of the use of five substitutes and the appointment of younger referees. Plus, on a note of reassuring normality, there’s a new ball again. The Nike Flight is basically the same as the previous ball. This AerowSculpt technology still “gives a more accurate flight.” But the ball will also have markings reminiscent of the first Premier League ball in 1992.
It’s like a strangely soothing note of nostalgia for strange times. Keep moving forward. This too will pass. But not without another season of dangerous living.