Liverpool’s start to 2017 has been a torrid one. On the final day of 2016, they sat in second place in the league, only six points behind front-runners Chelsea with the latter still having a trip to Anfield to contend with. Just over a month later, they sit a gastronomical 13 points behind the Premier League leaders, and have picked up only one win from ten games – with that win coming against League Two opposition Plymouth, at the second attempt.
The calendar year of 2016 was a fruitful one for the Reds, despite their torrid start to the 2015/16 season. In February, they appeared in the League Cup final, losing on penalties to Manchester City. In May they faced Sevilla in the Europa League final, and in November they topped the Premier League for the first time in over two years.
They might not have collected a trophy, but the affect of Jurgen Klopp seemed to be coming into full flow.
Fast forward to the present day, however, and Liverpool are way off the pace. Klopp reportedly lost his cool with the dressing room after another below-par display against Hull City, and pundits have questioned why Liverpool didn’t break the bank to bring reinforcements to the club in the January transfer window.
The problem for Liverpool, and many other teams who have slumped – though not to the same extent – is not the availability or price of players in the January transfer window. It is simply the domestic structure with which clubs have to contend post-Christmas.
Before December, The Reds played either four or five fixtures per month. They averaged a game just over once every six days. On the day of their shocking defeat to Hull – 35 days since the turn of the year – Liverpool were playing their 11th match in that time-span, averaging a game only marginally over every three days.
The introduction of the FA Cup to top tier teams in January adds intense pressure to an already stacked fixture list. This is only made worse by potential replays, a trap which Liverpool fell into. God forbid any club takes England’s second domestic knockout competition – the EFL Cup – seriously enough to reach the semi-finals, where they will face a guaranteed double header to determine who has earned a trip to Wembley.
This only seems more pointless by the fact that should replays or second legs not be enough to separate two sides, extra-time is then introduced. For the sake of players’ fitness, surely we should cut to the chase and just implement extra-time the first time round?
In fact, the English Football Association must now take the chance to go one better. A full review of the English domestic structure is required, and there is no need to look any further than the other top European leagues for improvement ideas.
None of the other top five leagues entertain a second domestic knockout competition, and there is no need for England to persist with the EFL Cup, which has become something of a joke over time. Something must be done to drastically reduce the amount of needless fixtures to be played during a period of the year where top teams have multiple competitions to contend with, and lesser teams could well have their matches affected by weather conditions every week.
It is time for the FA to scrap FA Cup replays. The ‘magic of the cup’ is lost on most when League Two teams play out boring 0-0 draws with Premier League clubs just to replicate their high gate earnings on another occasion. Go to extra-time the first time round, and be done with it.
It is time for the FA to scrap the EFL Cup. Perhaps the top teams will finally begin to take the FA Cup and their team selection ‘seriously’ when it is the only knockout tournament they’re fighting for on home turf. With more time for rest and preparation between games, fans will see a higher standard, players and pitches have the opportunity to recover, and supporters will appreciate the competition more.
Whether or not the FA continue to refuse the introduction of a winter break, there needs to be a clear review of how domestic football is structured in England, both for the integrity of their own competitions and for the quality of their national team.
The number of games today’s professionals are playing in takes a hugely disregarded toll, and it’s time for the FA to realise and react to that. Teams should not have to look to the transfer window for squad depth in January, instead they should be playing fewer games with more time for player recovery.
Jurgen Klopp is not without blame for Liverpool’s January slump, but English football’s governing body certainly has a lot to answer for.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Berita Duapuluhempat.