Sunday, April 21, 2024

Covid + injuries = postponement? 5 subs rule …

We should have been playing Wolves today, but obviously that’s been postponed. It was interesting to note they cited Covid cases plus injuries leaving them unable to field a team, and I suspect at some point there might be a conversation about whether injuries ought to be taken into account as they are something that clubs have to deal with all the time.

Eight Covid cases and a couple of injuries is significantly different from a couple of Covid cases and eight injuries. Again, there is a lack of transparency to this process, even if we now know that the bar for the Premier League is 13 outfield players and one goalkeeper being available. But, should clubs who are seeking postponements be required to make public the specifics? I realise there are issues around medical privacy, but ahead of our last few games, Arsenal have been public with the names of players absent because they have tested positive for Covid, so it can’t be an insurmountable problem (if it is one in the first place).

It does feel like there should be some percentage of the absentees being due to Covid before a game is called off. If it’s mostly injuries, clubs have academies and reserves that they can use to field players. I’m not suggesting that’s what the case is with Wolves, by the way, but as I mentioned yesterday, a game being called off is a bit of an administrative headache for managers, clubs, and the fixture schedules, but much more impactful on fans. If the Premier League makes hay from its global appeal, it has to take into account that will be reflected – in some way – by the make up of the attendance.

I’ve seen the story about Granit Xhaka helping a fan who was coming from distance for the Wolves game, and I’ve had messages from people coming from not quite as far away but  whose plans to bring their kids to their first game etc have been scuppered. Of course we’re living in extraordinary times and that plays a part in all that’s happening, but that makes it even more important that fairness and integrity are maintained.

It bleeds into the discussion of the reintroduction of the five subs rule, something Jurgen Klopp is keen to see, and we can all understand why. I think there are compelling reasons for it given the schedules faced by players – not simply for their clubs, but because of international breaks with more games in them, the potential for players to be ruled out for testing positive for Covid due to travel, and increased interaction/social contact.

He cited Burnley as an example of a team for whom fixture congestion and demands on players are lower:

As an example, Burnley, I’m not sure how many players of them play international football. When our players have three games, they have no games. So they play 38 Premier League games, cup games – another two, three, four – so that makes it 42.

But Burnley don’t have the commensurate resources that Liverpool’s extra football gives them. The Champions League income, the sponsors and partners built off that, the marketing power, the profile and all the rest that gives you the ability to build a squad able to cope with the demands on the players. Not to mention the idea that a vote between clubs which requires at least 14 to agree on a proposed change seems like a democratic and essentially fair way of doing things rather than the big teams calling the shots for their own benefit – even if Klopp does have a point. In a world where behemoths can get away with twisting rules and regulations to their own advantage, this is something that should be sacrosanct.

The other aspect to this is how can you introduce this mid-season and maintain fairness? The fixture pile-up has left some clubs with lots of games in hand, if they could use five subs when others have only been allowed three it provides them with an advantage. Even if it’s introduced when every team has played the same number of matches, there may be issues with certain fixtures. It’s the kind of change that should only happen before a season begins, and the big clubs with the deep pockets and even deeper squads need to just get on with it, then have the discussion again in the summer when it’s more reasonable to do. Especially as next season is going to be split in two with the World Cup and the schedule becomes even more condensed.

Anyway, that’s one for down the line. For now, I’ll leave it there. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra for you around lunchtime today. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Podcast should be out around mid-afternoon, so until then, take it easy.

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