There’s never been a summer quite like this one. Clubs and national teams are increasingly testing the limits of player work-loads but since the Champions League final brought down the curtain on the European club season, we have had the privilege of watching the inaugural Nations League Finals, Euro 2020 qualifiers, the UEFA U-21 Championships and three senior continental competitions over the past month.
Rested players have already begun to make their way back to their clubs for the start of pre-season training but the Copa America and CONCACAF Gold Cup only reached their conclusion this weekend. The African Cup Of Nations will run for another two weeks before ending on the 19th of July.
This means that the season-opening Community Shield in the first week of August could pit Liverpool and Manchester City against each other with half their first elevens missing. In addition to Alisson and Naby Keita, the Reds would in most likelihood miss the services of their famed front three in Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. City have enviable bench strength, but would definitely be hamstrung by the unavailability of Ederson, Nicolas Otamendi, Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero.
And these are just the players who have been on international duty till this past week, with Mane and Mahrez’s stints likely to continue depending on Senegal and Algeria’s fortunes in the AFCON. Add those who carry injuries over from the previous season like Benjamin Mendy and Xherdan Shaqiri and there could be mini-crises brewing in both camps come the start of the campaign.
This may be just the opening the chasing pack within the top six were looking for. Chelsea had a few of their out-on-loan youngsters at the U-21 Championships, but besides Willian and new signing Christian Pulisic, who has been at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, they have a well-rested squad going into the new season. Arsenal may only miss Alex Iwobi and a fringe option in Mohamed Elneny while Spurs could have to do without Juan Foyth and Serge Aurier. It is Manchester United who have hit the lottery with the summer schedule, with out-of-favour forward Alexis Sanchez the only player not available for pre-season for lack of rest.
Of course, players may choose to cut short their holidays and join up with their teams earlier, but there are serious injury risks associated with rushing players back before they are properly rested. Tottenham found that out the hard way last season and they will know better than anyone else that Liverpool and Manchester City will be rolling the dice if they hasten the availability of their star players in August.
If the two clubs refrain from this approach and ease their players back into the reckoning, the rest of the top six should seek to take advantage and accumulate early points at their rivals’ expense. Liverpool, especially, would be vulnerable at the top end of the pitch. At the moment, there is a possibility that an Origi-Brewster-Oxlade Chamberlain triumvirate could start the season as the strike-force. Jurgen Klopp will spend the month ahead of him in pre-season to tinker with various combinations, but none of them will provide opposition managers with sleepless nights. City are in better shape with both Sterling and Bernardo Silva having filled in as false nines before in the absence of Aguero and Jesus.
However these two sides go with their lineups at the beginning of the season, fatigue will most definitely catch up over the course of the season with this summer’s exertions following last year’s World Cup. It will be for the other teams to capitalise and close the gap on the runaway leaders from last season. Or possibly surpass them.