Tuesday Team Talk: Man City have no right to whinge about lack of winter break

Had Manchester City’s encounter with Chelsea on Saturday ended in anything but a stalemate, it would have completely changed the complexion of the title race.

As it is, Chelsea’s five-point lead was neither cut to two nor widened to eight – meaning, with 15 games to go, City are still very much in the race.

Although boss Manuel Pellegrini claimed he was dissatisfied with a draw, arguing his City side were the only ones pushing for victory, the result suited both sides equally.

At this moment in the season, just past the mid-point, the name of the game is staying alive in as many competitions as possible.

This leads us to an important issue – the winter break.

On Saturday both teams looked absolutely knackered as they battled it out at Stamford Bridge, and it’s no surprise since so much football’s been played in England during the winter breaks in European leagues.

With crucial Champions League ties coming up, could it be the Premier League has hamstrung its own clubs’ progression in Europe by forcing upon them such a rigorous schedule over the festive period?

In other words, is this an argument for scrapping the popular yet controversial fixture pile-up over Christmas?

Well, not really.

In the case of City at least, playing over the holidays hasn’t put them at a particular disadvantage ahead of their daunting two-legged tie against Barcelona, which starts in three weeks.

Since December 20, when Barcelona went on their winter break, the Spanish side have actually played one more game than City, as La Liga has overcompensated for their two-week gap.

Herein lies one of the greatest fallacies of the argument – that all winter breaks are equal. 

Serie A take a similar length of time off to La Liga, whereas in France it lasts a month, and in Germany six weeks.

So while Chelsea and Arsenal, who face Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco in the Champions League respectively, might have cause for complaint, City certainly don’t.

There are disparities and nuances at play here, and as long as that’s the case it’s impossible to come up with an answer to this question that most people in English football are asking, which essentially has either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

No matter how much Pellegrini likes to complain about the festive fixture pile-up, he’s severely undermined by the fact City went on a training trip to Abu Dhabi immediately before their FA Cup defeat to Middlesbrough.

Yes, the decision might have been out of his hands, but you simply can’t get away with risking player fatigue in search of commercial revenue, and then attack the Premier League for doing the same.

Also, let it not be forgotten that having a winter break can be a detriment to performance.

Real Madrid saw their 22-match winning streak snapped by Valencia in their very first post-break match, while Bayern Munich were thumped 4-1 by Wolfsburg on Friday in their first match since December 23.

It’s typical of knee-jerk reactions to adversity to seek a quick fix, but the issue of the winter break simply doesn’t have one.

What’s the best length for a playing break? If the Premier League did introduce one, should teams be allowed to go on trips to the Middle East? If it’s about competitiveness in Europe, surely there needs to be a uniform, Uefa-instigated break for all leagues. 

If playing four matches in 12 days over Christmas disadvantages English clubs, doesn’t the extra revenue they earn from playing in peak viewing season hand that advantage back?

Each of these issues must be addressed first before we think about playing with the schedule. So yes, Manuel, it may be unfair, but them’s be the breaks. 

Main image courtesy of Alex Morton/Action Images, with thanks.

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