Reported in an exclusive to Henry Winter and The Times, the English FA and Chairman Greg Dyke will recommend to the English Premier League that the League drop from 20 to 18 teams in order to alleviate the amount of games that are played by the top English teams.
For years, there has been a growing trend that English teams are struggling in European and international competitions. The English National Team has been rather lackluster in international tournaments since the 90’s. English club teams have been, for the most part, haven’t fared well in UEFA tournaments compared to teams in Spain and Germany and are in danger of losing their fourth Champions League spot to Italy. The Premier League and the FA have tried to figure out how to solve this problem in English soccer and the FA believes they have by lowering the number of teams in the top league.
This reduction of teams in the Premier League is not without precedent. When the Premier League started in 1992, there were 22 teams. That number got reduced to 20 at the start of the 1995-96 EPL season.
Obviously, there are some ramifications when reducing the number of teams in the Premier League. For one, what does this do to the lower leagues? There are already 24 teams in the League Championship, League 1 and League 2, will that add a 25th and/or 26th team or does this go all the way to the end and more teams will be relegated in League 2 to round out the numbers.
The other question is whether or not cutting two teams from the EPL will actually solve the problem. Cutting two teams from the Premier League mean four fewer games for those teams. Depending on how you look at it, that could mean a lot or not enough. Over the span of an English Premier League season, a team can play at least 40 games if they lose their first League Cup and FA Cup games and not play in a European tournament and as many as 52 games if they win the Capital One Cup, FA Cup and the Champions League. And I’m not even counting games played on international breaks when the elite players go to play even more. Cutting four games may not look all that much in the grand scheme.
Also, one must look at when these games are being played. Maybe the issue isn’t cutting games, it’s that there are stretches in the season when teams are playing midweek games for multiple consecutive weeks and that inconsistency can affect player fitness. In December, a Champions League team who is also in the Capital One Cup will play seven games in the month. Whereas at the same time, the Bundesliga is on break from December 20 to January 22.
While cutting teams and in turn, games from an English Premier League schedule may help, maybe there are other ways to cut games. In other countries, there is only one nationwide Cup tournament. In England, there is the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup. And while the Capital One Cup is mostly seen as a tournament for the bigger teams to play the reserves until close to the end, players and teams still need to train for those games even if those starters haven’t played.
This is a very complex issue and an issue that the England FA and Premier League has been trying to figure out for years. Whether or not going to 18 Premier League teams ever happens, this is clearly the biggest step in trying to make sure the English National Teams and England club teams do a better job in European and international tournaments.