The 2020-21 football season is finally starting to take some sort of shape and the only thing that can be assured is that it’s going to be absolutely manic.
With the Covid-19 pandemic elongating the current campaign, there’s going to be little room the breathe once the new season starts later this month.
For the elite clubs in England – and especially those still in the Champions League and Europa League – the fixture treadmill will be turned up to the max with the top teams likely to be playing every three or four days.
As the Premier League confirms the dates of its 38 matchdays in 2020-21 and the FA Cup and Carabao Cup round dates are outlined, we take a look at what is set to be football’s most hectic season ever.
Liverpool won the Premier League title last month but their defence of the crown will come amid a jam-packed schedule of fixtures during the 2020-21 campaign
Leicester and Manchester United play on the final day of the 2019-20 Premier League season – but the new campaign is just around the corner and will be busier than ever
So the fixture dates for 2020-21 are being firmed up then?
Yes. Pretty much every competition in England as well as the main UEFA competitions have now released their fixture schedules for next season.
The Premier League has announced the dates of their 38 matchdays with the season scheduled to get underway on September 12 and finish on May 23.
The actual Premier League fixture list is due to be released on Friday August 21 so fans can start to plot out their team’s games.
The FA Cup and Carabao Cup schedules have also been unveiled. The FA Cup is broadly similar to usual in terms of when the rounds will be played, but replays will be scrapped for the 2020-21 campaign at least.
But there have been major changes to the Carabao Cup as the EFL desperately try to squeeze it into the schedules so as many of the big teams involved take it as seriously as they can.
The first four rounds of the competition will be played before the end of September but the competition won’t pick up again until just before Christmas.
All Premier League players – and especially internationals – are in for a relentless campaign
Hang on, so most of the Carabao Cup will be done and dusted in the first month of the season?
That’s right. The first round, which involves only EFL clubs, is likely to be played on September 5 though the odd game may have to be rearranged because of international call-ups.
Carabao Cup 2020-21
Round One – September 5 (alternative dates may apply)
Round Two – September 15/16
Round Three – September 22/23
Round Four – September 29/30
Round Five – December 22/23
Semi-finals – January 5/6 (one leg only played at venue of club drawn out first)
February 28 – Final
The second round is fixed for September 15/16, the third round is September 22/23 and the fourth round is September 29/30, so three consecutive midweeks. But the fifth round won’t be played until December 22/23.
One more thing as well – the semi-final will now be played over just one leg rather than the traditional two to free up more time. The game will be played at the stadium of whichever club is drawn first.
The final at Wembley is set for February 28.
Why has the Carabao Cup been condensed to the first few weeks of the season then?
Well it’s because of the elite teams playing in the group stages of the Champions League and the Europa League.
Premier League clubs usually enter the competition in the second round but some of those also playing in Europe don’t come in until the third round.
UEFA had already announced that the first group games in the Champions League would be played on October 20-21 and the first Europa League group games are October 22.
So that means the Champions League qualifiers – Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea – and the Europa qualifiers – Leicester City, Arsenal and potentially Tottenham Hotspur – will be playing on every available midweek in October, November and December, meaning no room for the Carabao.
Four rounds of the EFL Cup – won last season by Man City – will be completed in September
That’s fair enough. So is there enough space for the Premier League?
Just about. With the late start to the league season and the need to get the fixtures done ahead of the rearranged European Championship next summer, the Premier League have had their work cut out drawing up the schedule.
We already knew that the games will begin on September 12 and it will conclude on Sunday May 23 with no fewer than five midweek rounds scheduled.
The decision to scrap the traditional FA Cup replays has helped this because the aforementioned European games left little room to manoeuvre in midweeks before Christmas.
There’s even a clash between the FA Cup final date on May 15 and the penultimate round of league games. The quarter-final and semi-finals also clash.
And there’s really bad news for those managers who hate the hectic Christmas and New Year schedule.
Nearly a third of the entire Premier League season will be played in December and January alone with matchdays scheduled for December 5, 12, 16, 19, 26, 28 and January 2, 13, 16, 20, 23 and 30, not to mention the cups.
League One Oxford United hosted Premier League Newcastle in a fourth-round FA Cup replay
Guessing we can kiss goodbye to the winter break then? That was short-lived
Well it appears not. The Premier League dates list sees matchday 18 split in two with some fixtures on Wednesday January 13 and the rest a week later on January 20.
So it seems, as with the 2019-20 campaign, that clubs will potentially get a chance to put their feet up for a few days at least. However, matchday 19 is still pencilled in for January 16 so it’ll be a very brief pause.
I’ve heard that some of the teams playing in the Champions League and Europa League might be able to start a bit later. Is that the case?
Yes, amid all this forward planning, let’s not forget that the 2019-20 season is still ongoing.
Manchester City are into the quarter-finals of the Champions League and are set to play Lyon in Lisbon on Saturday night. They are the sole English survivor after Chelsea lost to Bayern Munich last weekend in the last-16.
Manchester United are into the semi-finals of the Europa League and will play Sevilla in Cologne on Sunday evening. Wolves fell by the wayside when they lost to Sevilla this week.
Manchester United are looking at the prospect of no pre-season if they win the Europa League
If City advance all the way to the final, that will be played on August 23, two days after the Europa League final if United make it.
It means City and United would have virtually no pre-season and there has been talk of them, as well as Chelsea and Wolves, being allowed to start the new Premier League season a bit later.
But the sheer madness of the season calendar and the complete absence of any slack to rearrange games before Christmas means any postponed fixtures may not be able to be played until March at the earliest.
Wolves, who have just completed a 383-day season of some 59 games, have suggested the four teams play each other on September 12 to allow for some rest but that remains to be seen.
Wolves won’t have much turnaround into next season following their 383-day campaign
Are there other consequences from the European games?
Yes, there could well be. If United or City (or both) win their tournaments, they will play in the UEFA Super Cup, which is set to be played in Budapest on September 24.
This Thursday night game comes two days after the third round of the Carabao Cup so United or City would most likely have to field a weakened side in one or the other competition.
And should City win the Champions League, they may well have to travel to Qatar to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup in December.
Though exact dates for the competition haven’t yet been announced, any City participation could easily see them have to reschedule at least one Premier League game and possibly a Carabao Cup quarter-final.
Man City face the Super Cup and the Club World Cup if they win the Champions League
All this would have to be caught up with later in the campaign and, as already mentioned, there are barely any midweek slots remaining as it is, especially if they go deep in the Champions League.
There is a recent precedent here, of course. Liverpool were in the Club World Cup last year and sent their first team to the Middle East while a reserve side lost 5-0 to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup.
City could well have to do the same to keep all their plates spinning come December.
How would this impact on Tottenham in the Europa League?
Thanks to Arsenal winning the FA Cup earlier this month, their north London rivals Tottenham now have to play three rounds of Europa League qualifying.
The good news for Jose Mourinho and his side is that these are just one leg rather than two as usual but they’re on September 17, September 24 and October 1, all Thursday nights two days after a Carabao Cup game.
So it looks as though Spurs will have little choice but to field two separate teams in the two competitions throughout September, especially if long-haul travel is necessary.
You would imagine Mourinho might have something to say about this.
Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham may have to field two separate teams throughout September
If the 38-game Premier League is tight, what about the 46-game Championship?
That’s an excellent point. The teams in the Championship – and Leagues One and Two – somehow need to cram in eight additional fixtures to those in the top-flight.
Like the Premier League, the three divisions of the EFL commence on September 12 and they’ll conclude even earlier on May 8/9 to allow time for the end-of-season play-offs.
As a result of the usual August dates being removed and the calendar squeezed, there will be 13 midweek Championship rounds and 11 midweek rounds in the other two divisions next season.
So if a Championship side advances far in one of the cup competitions, they’re likely to face extreme fixture congestion come the Spring.
Leeds won the Championship in 2019-20 but it’s going to be a marathon slog next season
So will there be any space in this mad calendar for international football?
Oh yes. At the behest of UEFA and FIFA, the international games seem to be an immovable feast. Mind you, we haven’t had any now for the whole of 2020.
UEFA intend to run their second edition of the Nations League in full with matches scheduled for the start of September, mid-October and mid-November, punching three big holes in the autumn schedule.
The Euro 2020 play-offs are set for October after they were postponed from March because of coronavirus and there will be a round of pre-Euro friendly games in late March.
And to cap everything off, Euro 2020, itself a tournament that will involved more travel than ever before, gets underway on June 11 and runs for a full month.
So if you’re an international footballer who plays for a Premier League team in European competition, you can next have a holiday in almost a year from now. Happy days!
England have the joy of the UEFA Nations League to take part in this Autumn
And what if there’s a second outbreak of Covid-19?
This really is a scenario that none of the football authorities want to contemplate.
With the season as jam-packed as it is already, it would be a nightmare if a second spike of coronavirus in England or an outbreak of cases within a team caused games to be postponed.
There simply isn’t the room in the schedule to fit the rearranged games in and the competitions needs to end in time for the Euros.
It’s already a scenario playing out in Scotland with Celtic and Aberdeen games postponed because of positive cases and breaches of protocol.
At least their season started nice and early. A similar set of circumstances within the English game and we really would be in trouble.