Pat Nevin: Work and rest to play

It is a midweek column for Blues legend Pat Nevin this time, and scheduling is its subject too…

 

I must admit I have waivered over the years in my support for a winter break in the Premier League. There are lots of positives and quite a few negatives as well. At this moment, I am heavily in favour of a break but that is mostly down to a complete and utter bias in the interests of Chelsea FC.

The start of the new year has not been good to Chelsea and many of the worries of a strenuous season are there to be seen. First of all the injuries, which we had managed to steer clear of last season. The added workload of Champions League, a run to the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup as well as the start of the FA Cup campaign have definitely taken their toll. Add to that the international games and travelling and it is no surprise whatsoever that tiredness and injuries kick in. The problem is if you rest too much and do not keep the players in shape to play at a high tempo, you will be trampled over in the Premier League.

It is not just Liverpool and Man City that press the ball, Watford the other night, Bournemouth for spells and Newcastle United in the first half of our recent cup game tried that ploy. 

 Dennis Wise, in his Wimbledon days, in the '88 FA Cup final

Any team capable of playing at a high tempo can overcome a more talented side through pure work-rate. This is not new. Wimbledon used precisely the same tactic in the 1980s to devastating effect. You have to be able to fight toe-to-toe and run step-for-step with your opponent before the benefits of your extra skills show through.

So Antonio giving the players a few days off might sound odd after the recent run of results and a need for fitness, but rest and recuperation both physically and mentally are vital as well. It is a delicate balance and sometimes because of the number and frequency of games you have to take chances.

Take Marcos Alonso for example. When he was left out against Watford as a precaution, eyebrows were raised in unison in the press box. Was it a mistake in hindsight? Having played at the tempo he has this season, the chances of him joining the injury list must have been well into the red zone. If the club played him and the hammy did twang, then questions would have been asked about the wisdom of his inclusion. In short, you can’t win against the knowledge of hindsight.

So for players and ours in particular, a bit of a winter break of two or three weeks instead of two or three days might just come in very handy indeed. They would also probably be fresher for the World Cup and not totally burnt out by the time they flew out to Russia.

It is however not clear-cut. There are many good arguments against a winter break. Here a just a few:

1.           Football is an entertainment, so games must be played when the supporters/customers want them played, which in England means playing all the way through until the end of May.

2.           The same number of games have to be played, so when do you fit them in? Do you add an extra month to the end of the season? As a UK fan, maybe that would be fine as the weather is better, but what chance then of the players getting enough rest before a World Cup or European Championships?

3.           I actually played in a league that had a winter break up in Scotland and it didn’t always have the desired effect. Some teams took it on themselves to arrange glamour, money-spinning friendlies around the globe, completely destroying the supposed benefits to the players.

4.           Why don’t the clubs just utilise the squads a bit better, specifically give more youngsters from the academies opportunities? Morally this is a perfect argument, but in the real world try telling that to a manager fighting against relegation. And of course if you keep the kids at the club and do not loan them out, they still only get a handful of games each season, nowhere near enough to truly learn their trade.

In actual fact, I could go on but I will let the Premier League figure out the best direction. It will be hard enough and that is before you even start considering what will happen in the season of the World Cup in Qatar.

Purely for the benefit of the very top players, they must be given some more time to recover. They are paid very handsomely but you will not get the best out of them for the longest time if you flog them mercilessly every week of every year.

Right now, if Chelsea had a fully fit Alvaro Morata and Andreas Christensen and hadn’t had to do without the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Willian and David Luiz for a few weeks things almost certainly would not have been so rocky. Others teams have injuries too, and sometimes it is just your turn. Remember when Arsenal went through a horrendous period of soft tissue injuries and everyone wanted to find a simple reason. Sometimes it is just back luck and you have to deal with it.

With any luck, these few days rest and an entire week between games will be just what the players needed. Then again, after this busy month, maybe you and I need a bit of a rest from it too.