Premier League winter break: How it could work and when it would be
The Premier League has for the first time confirmed it is open to the idea of introducing a winter break, including the possibility in its tender document for the next TV broadcast deals.
The award of the TV contracts, which will see the number of live games in the UK rise to 200, are set to be confirmed next week.
Including a winter break in the tender document is important, as it allows changes to be made to the agreement if a consensus can be reached between all parties — including the Football Association and the EFL.
When would the first winter break be?
Most likely from 2019-20, when the next TV deal kicks in.
What date would the winter break start?
There appears to be universal agreement that any break would kick in after the third round of the FA Cup, which is scheduled for the first weekend of January every season.
That means with the FA Cup third round in the 2019-20 season likely to be on the weekend of Jan. 4, the break will start from then.
So the packed festive schedule will remain?
Yes, it is far too popular among fans and broadcasters. Even managers such as Arsene Wenger admit that the schedule is an important part of English football.
How long will the break be?
It’s most likely that there would be a two-week break between games, which would mirror the system in Italy and Spain. Germany has a huge winter break; it lasted 22 days this season but was even longer in the previous campaign. The Bundesliga has four fewer rounds of fixtures, while there is only one cup competition with single legs.
Would all English football stop?
No, the EFL does not intend to follow suit even at Championship level. With 46 rounds of games to play it would struggle to find space.
What would need to be rearranged?
A full round of Premier League games would need to slot in somewhere else in the calendar, and that might require the season starting a week earlier especially with Euro 2020 at the end of that first season.
Also, the first leg of the Carabao Cup semifinals is usually scheduled during the first week of this period, and it has been reported that the EFL is prepared to discuss cutting this to a single-legged tie.
Would the FA Cup be affected?
It has been suggested that the competition could move to midweek, leaving all weekends free for Premier League football. However, lucrative TV and sponsorship deals have already been signed and sealed and there is no real appetite to devalue the importance of the cup this way. But it is reported that the new TV deal does include a clause for some replays to be shelved if a winter break is introduced.
It would continue as usual up to the third round, but replays in that round could be scrapped. They are usually played in the likely two-week winter break window. Alternatively, just Premier League teams might not be required to replay.
In addition, replays could be removed later, perhaps in the fifth round, which would allow a full set of Premier League fixtures in that scheduled replay midweek. Replays have already been stopped from the quarterfinals onward.
Will teams go off and play glamour friendlies?
An interesting point. German teams have to play a friendly or two at the end of their break as it is so long, but they are not big-ticket games. This month Borussia Dortmund played Fortuna Duesseldorf and Zulte-Waregem while Bayern Munich took on Al-Ahli and Sonnenhof Grossaspach.
However, if Premier League teams suddenly become available to play matches out in the gulf states in early January, with big sponsorship deals on the table, it would be no surprise to see such fixtures crop up. In 2012, AC Milan played PSG in Dubai and most top clubs head there for warm weather training.
Winter breaks across Europe this season
Spain: A two-week break that ran from Saturday, Dec. 23 to Saturday, Jan. 6. However, the Copa del Rey had fixtures on Jan. 3 and 4, so most major teams had a break of less than two weeks.
Germany: A mammoth four-week break that began after the games on the weekend of Dec. 16, with the Bundesliga restarting on Friday, Jan. 12. A handful of teams, including Bayern and Dortmund, did have to play DFB Pokal ties on the midweek of Dec. 20, however. The league splits its programme in half — 17 matches before Christmas and 17 after.
Italy: Another league with a two-week break, and one that would match the Premier League’s likely plan. It started on Saturday, Jan. 6 through to Sunday, Jan. 21.
France: Began its winter break after a midweek round on Dec. 20, and returned to action just over three weeks later. However, there was a round of the Coupe de France on the weekend of Jan. 6 so technically the rest was just over two weeks.
Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.