4:37 PM BST
Dale JohnsonGeneral Editor, ESPN FC
We now know how the 2020-21 Premier League season will look. Strap yourselves in, because this is going to be one hell of a ride.
It’s non-stop after the first ball is kicked on the weekend of Sept. 12, with only four spare midweeks through to the Champions League final on May 29. And all of those midweeks will be needed for rearranged Premier League fixtures. The schedule is due to be published before Aug. 21, but a final date has not yet been set.
With the first month of the season lost due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Euro 2021 beginning on June 11, Premier League clubs — especially those in European competition — face a relentless schedule.
The seven teams in Europe will not have a possible spare midweek until the Carabao Cup quarterfinals on Dec. 22, with the Champions League and Europa League being played over six consecutive midweeks dates for club football from October through to December.
With the Carabao Cup early rounds being played early, it means the 13 clubs not in Europe won’t have any midweek football from the start of October through to the midweek of Dec. 15. And that could prove telling in the second half of the season when fatigue may set in.
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It’s going to be especially tough on Tottenham Hotspur, who will have to negotiate three qualifying rounds of the Europa League to get to the group stage and have to hope they don’t face any long-haul trips to the likes of Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
Here, we set out how the season will shape up.
How many rounds did Premier League need to reschedule?
The Premier League effectively needed to find space for five rounds of games, four that were due to be played in August plus one at Christmas due to the way the dates fall compared to last season.
How has the Premier League made up these rounds?
1. The season will run a week later. While the FA Cup final will also be played on Gameweek 37, the following midweek is opened up for any catchup games to be played too
2. A Premier League round is scheduled on Jan. 23, the same weekend as the fourth round of the FA Cup. By making the Carabao Cup semifinal one-legged for this season, that frees up the following midweek to complete any league games that could not take place because of fourth-round ties, of which there are likely to be many
3. The winter break has been dropped. A split gameweek (18a, 18b) will take place in January, spread across two midweeks. This creates an additional weekend for matchweek 24 in February.
4. FA Cup third and fourth round replays have been scrapped. This frees the midweek of Jan. 19, ordinarily third-round replays, for matchweek 18b. It also opens up the midweek of Feb. 2, which would usually be for fourth-round replays and the first half of the winter break.
5. An extra midweek round is added on May 11.
Does this mean there are more midweek rounds?
Yes. There are two additional midweek rounds (Feb 2, May 11) plus most matches scheduled on FA Cup fourth-round weekend will be put back into midweek.
Why is there a round 18a and 18b?
The Premier League’s TV deal had one split week for broadcasting, which was part of the winter break and allowed all 10 matches to be shown live in the UK. By moving the “winter break” to consecutive midweeks in January, likely with staggered kickoff times, it allows that contract to be fulfilled.
Will teams still be allowed to make five substitutions?
No, Premier League clubs voted against this so only three substitutions will be permitted.
How has the FA Cup changed?
Apart from the abolition of all replays for this season, little has altered. The final will take place a week earlier and there will be Premier League games on that same weekend, for the first time since 2013.
How will the Carabao Cup work?
The 13 Premier League clubs not in Europe will join in the second round in the week of Sept. 15. The other seven clubs join the following midweek, in round three.
By the time the October international break arrives, there will be just eight teams left in the Carabao Cup, and seven games to play. The pressure on the fixture list from the Carabao Cup is not as great as might be perceived.
How are Tottenham going to play in the Carabao Cup?
Tottenham Hotspur are due to join the Carabao Cup the week of Sept. 22, the same week they are due to play a Europa League third qualifying round tie. They should also be in European action the following week, also reserved for the fourth round of the Carabao Cup.
This has yet to be confirmed, but it seems likely that Spurs will have to submit an under-23 team for the early rounds of the Carabao Cup, as Liverpool did last season when they were double booked with the Club World Cup. Their kids lost 5-0 to Aston Villa in the quarterfinals, however.
What if Man City or Man United are in the UEFA Super Cup?
The Champions League and Europa League winners will meet in Budapest on Sept. 24, so one of, or both, Manchester City or Manchester United could be in European action and, like Spurs, have to play an U23 side in the Carabao Cup.
Will Man City or Man United start the season late?
It has been reported that if City or United get to the semifinals in Europe, they will start the 2020-21 Premier League season at least a week late. As the Carabao Cup has been scheduled for the only three free midweeks in 2020, it means there is little chance for the clubs to catch up.
One option is to play the catch-up game at the same time as a Carabao Cup tie. They could also be scheduled to play teams not in Europe and hope to use the spare Champions League midweeks in February and March, but if either side drops into the Europa League there would be no spare date. They could also play in their free date for 18a or 18b.
What about the Club World Cup?
As it stands, the final December Club World Cup is due to take place in Qatar this year. If Man City were to win the Champions League, that should rule them out of rounds 13 and 14 of Premier League matches and there would be real issues finding a new date to play them, if City progress in the Champions League.
However, the Copa Libertadores will not be completed until January, so the South American continental champions will be unknown before the scheduled date of the Club World Cup. Other confederations are still planning to complete before December. It remains to be seen if FIFA will actually be able to press ahead with the competition as planned.
Can Premier League teams play on European nights?
Yes, UEFA has relaxed the rule that prevents top-flight domestic football from being played at the same time as Champions League and Europa League games. However, this doesn’t offer a solution if a team that is required to play a rearranged fixture is in European competition.
Why are there four international breaks?
There are eight international match dates across the three breaks in 2020 — 2 in September and 3 in each of October and November. There are six rounds of UEFA Nations League fixtures, which will help form the ranking for the World Cup qualifying draw on Nov. 29 and supply two teams for the UEFA World Cup playoffs. There are also two dates for the Euro 2020 playoffs, when other nations can play international friendlies.
The March date sees the first two rounds of World Cup qualifying.
Could anything else go wrong?
If a club gets to both the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup final, and reaches the semifinals in Europe, there are not enough spare midweeks to catch-up on missed Premier League fixtures. This is usually the case, and Man City were on a fixture collision course last season before the coronavirus pandemic paused football.
Also, with such a tight schedule, there is little room for manoeuvre if a harsh winter leads to numerous match postponements.
And, of course, the coronavirus could make the schedule impossible again.