It’s the most wonderful time of the year, particularly for football fans, but one that puts increasing pressure on Premier League players.
All 20 top-flight clubs are faced with taxing schedules but our research shows that Manchester United have a harder time of it than our rivals towards the top of the table.
Jose Mourinho’s side have a total of six non-matchdays over the period – no club has fewer – while London trio Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham United can boast three more, due to the Gunners’ clash with Liverpool being brought forward to this Friday and the Spurs versus West Ham derby moving back to 4 January.
Chelsea’s matches are nicely spaced out to give them a total of eight days between games, while Liverpool and Manchester City have seven. The reigning champions have three days between their second and third games, unlike the one to be experienced by United and 14 other Premier League sides. A short trip to Arsenal on 3 January gives the Blues and the Gunners a little more grace.
The manager has already revealed he lost Antonio Valencia to a hamstring injury at the weekend, due to fatigue, and there seems to be widespread concern that an extra fixture has been crowbarred into this year’s festive programme as part of the planning for next year’s World Cup finals.
United and Leicester will play four games between 23 December and 1 January after our clash at the King Power Stadium was switched to a Saturday night kick-off. At least the journey to the East Midlands will be the longest of United’s hectic schedule, with the total mileage coming out at 288, still considerably more than our Boxing Day opponents Burnley, who are at the bottom of the time-on-the-road table with only 160 miles.
With 12 points up for grabs as we move from 2017 to 2018, it all seems a far cry from October and November, when we had three and four league games respectively throughout those whole months. December is a different beast altogether with nine outings in all competitions, plus a quick turnaround between Saturday’s tea-time clash with Southampton on 30 December and the away game at resurgent Everton on New Year’s Day [Monday], also kicking off at 17:30 GMT.
Expect no let-up in January if we progress in the cup competitions, with the Derby County game in the FA Cup third round now scheduled for the Friday after the Toffees test on the Monday. It’s the price of success, in many respects, but it all means Jose will have to juggle his resources accordingly in order to deal with such an exhausting programme.