Jurgen Klopp has once again complained about Liverpool’s congested fixture schedule, with his side due to face Newcastle United in the Premier League’s early Saturday slot in between both ties of their upcoming Champions League semi-final against Villarreal.

Liverpool host Villarreal at Anfield in the first leg of the tie on Wednesday, April 27 and then face a difficult trip to Newcastle on Saturday, April 30 ahead of the return leg in Spain.

Klopp, who has previously stated his dislike of the early slot on Saturdays after a Champions League fixture, said on Thursday: “I don’t understand it. I can understand that people want to see a football match between Liverpool and Newcastle but I don’t see why any team should have an advantage or a disadvantage.

“The league and the broadcaster really have to try at least to help. We will see. I haven’t heard anything yet. Nobody from BT contacted me yet. But I’d say common sense would tell you that it’s probably the right thing to do to move the game slightly backwards.”

The Athletic understands that, following Klopp’s press conference, Liverpool made an official request for their match against Newcastle to be pushed back into a later slot.

But is Klopp correct in stating that Liverpool have been unfairly treated by the Premier League and its broadcast partners? Do players sustain more injuries in the early slot? And why can Premier League clubs not band together to have the 12.30pm slot scrapped?

Here, The Athletic answers the most pressing questions on a perennial talking point.


What’s the story?

Klopp previously sarcastically congratulated BT Sport presenter Des Kelly in a bad-tempered post-match interview last season, following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Brighton in November 2020. Liverpool conceded an injury-time penalty at the Amex Stadium, as well as losing James Milner to a hamstring injury.

Klopp blamed the early kick-off time for Liverpool’s poor performance. “I don’t know how often I have to say it. You picked the 12.30,” Klopp told Kelly. “After Wednesday, Saturday at 12.30 is really dangerous for the players.”

That was far from the first time that Klopp has been critical of the fixture schedule and he raised a similar complaint after Liverpool’s Champions League loss to Atalanta in November 2020. “You, my special friends, ask us to go on Saturday at 12.30pm, which is nearly a crime to be honest,” he said, in another interview with Kelly.

Klopp revisited the topic in the wake of Liverpool’s 6-4 aggregate victory over Benfica this week. “I’ve just spoken to BT Sport and pointed out to them again that this is a crap kick-off time,” Klopp told DAZN Germany.

“We want to play all the games that are coming up — no problem at all. But it doesn’t have to be that they let us play 12.30 on Saturdays and then see how it goes — for no reason. I will never understand that.”

Liverpool have since requested the match at St James’ Park to be pushed back.


Is Klopp the only one?

No. Klopp may be the most vocal critic of the Premier League’s Saturday lunchtime kick-off slot, but he is far from the first manager to make clear his objections.

Last season, Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta hit out at the Premier League for making his side face Liverpool on a Wednesday night and then Aston Villa at 12.30pm on a Saturday in March.

Frank Lampard, while manager of Chelsea, suggested the Premier League was undermining its own product by asking his team to travel to Newcastle for an early Saturday kick-off straight after the international break. “That 12.30 slot, how much does it need to be there?” Lampard said. “It’s absolutely not the optimum way to have players preparing for a Premier League game, which is an incredible brand all around the world.”

Former Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was another critic, describing the kick-off as a “joke” that “set us up to fail” after a 3-1 win over Everton.


So… are Liverpool being unfairly treated?

No, not according to this season’s numbers.

Saturday 12.30pm matches after Wednesday

But Klopp has suggested the turnaround is unfair to all teams — and not just Liverpool.


What does the turnaround actually entail?

A team playing a Champions League match on a Wednesday night will typically have Thursday as a recovery day. That leaves Friday free for a full squad session, albeit few managers will choose to train at intensity given the limited recovery time between the two fixtures.

Teams will then travel on either the Friday night or the Saturday morning, depending on the location of the game. Unsurprisingly, an early start on Saturday morning is guaranteed.

 

Kicking off later in the day, at either 3pm, 5.30pm or at 8pm, therefore makes a sizeable difference to preparations in terms of travel, training patterns and — perhaps most significantly — sleep. “If you play in the afternoon obviously the boys sleep longer and you can ask whoever you want, sleep is a big part in recovery,” Klopp commented in 2020.


Why are injuries more common?

Teams are more likely to sustain injuries early on a Saturday afternoon having played late on a Wednesday because players are not provided with enough recovery time between fixtures.

“It can take anywhere up to 72 hours to fully recover from a game, which helps explain why muscle injury rates are substantially higher when the interval between games is lower,” Dr Joel Mason, a sports scientist at the University of Jena in Germany, told The Athletic in 2020.

“This also leaves very limited opportunity to work on and top-up some injury-preventing capacities in training during the season, which can then potentially feed back into the injury risk down the track as the season progresses.”


How important is rest to recovery?

Several medical studies have reported that playing matches at night, travelling long distances and a congested schedule can all impact sporting performance. Matches after 8pm are said to influence sleep as the intensity of a game can make a human being more “wakeful” after a match, while a player may also have aches and pains.

Sleep is important for footballers as it reduces the risk of injury. In one study of high school athletes, it was found that individuals who slept less than eight hours per night on average were 70 per cent more likely to record an injury than those who slept more than seven hours.

As such, an evening kick-off on a Wednesday night may impact on a player’s sleep and the short recovery time ahead of a lunchtime kick-off on a Saturday has the potential to increase a player’s personal risk of injury.

“Sleep has been ignored,” adds Nick Littlehales, a leading elite sport sleep coach. “It should be a very natural process. Recovery is not doing nothing. It’s enabling you to do something. Yes, of course, sleep is important but it’s taken for granted. We should make it as important as everything else we do.”


So… why do we have Saturday lunchtime kick-offs?

The simple answer is because of television.

The Premier League’s broadcast department — the envy of rival leagues across the world — looked towards the NFL when the decision was made to divide its inventory into packages of rights and sell them via an auction. Doing this enabled the Premier League to bring in more media partners and therefore make more money. But it meant fans had to fork out for additional subscriptions.

The Saturday lunchtime slot is particularly important to the Premier League. It has to be early because of the UK’s “blackout” period between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on a Saturday afternoon, in order to protect gate receipts through the football pyramid. It is also prime time in key Asian markets, such as China, Hong Kong and Singapore.


And who picks them?

In February 2018 BT agreed to pay £295 million per season — £9.22 million per match, up from £7.6 million — for the Premier League’s “Package A” of Saturday lunchtime fixtures from August 2019.

Klopp was particularly angry with BT that Liverpool’s match against Brighton in 2020-21 had been selected for the Saturday lunchtime slot. “You pick us for the 12.30 kick-offs,” he told Kelly. “You picked it. Not you, personally. But you did, didn’t you?”

“I don’t think this is Klopp fighting against the power of the broadcasters legitimately given to them,” Pierre Maes, consultant and author of the book Le Business des Droits TV du Foot, told The Athletic last year. “I am convinced that he was instead pointing at BT’s pick for this particular match day.”

BT is unable to pick matches involving teams who have played in the Europa League or the Conference League for their early Saturday slot.


Why don’t the clubs do something about it?

Premier League clubs are powerless to prevent rights holders from broadcasting the matches they wish.

“Staggering the schedule to create a higher number of broadcasting windows has become a go-to strategy for European football leagues to accommodate broadcasters,” Yannick Ramcke, host of The Unofficial Partner’s podcast The Bundle tells The Athletic. “A higher number of exclusive broadcasting windows also helps to ensure that eyeballs are not split across multiple games at the same time, helping to protect revenues.”

“The size of the broadcasting deals and the reliance clubs have on TV money means that it is the broadcasters and not the clubs who call the shots,” adds Dr Jonathan Cable, a lecturer in Sport Journalism at the University of Gloucestershire. “If clubs want the money to keep rolling in then they will have to continue to do what is asked of them by broadcasters. The clubs are commodities and their players are seen as assets.

“The broadcasting deals have steadily increased the amount of games required for TV, add in the 3pm blackout and there is a fumbling around for slots in the day to fit in all of these contract mandated games. With only so many hours in the day, they have to go somewhere.”

Ultimately, the Premier League is the most-watched sports league in the world for a reason.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.