The English Football Association (FA) has announced that Premier League clubs will have a winter break in February, starting from the 2019/20 season.
In an initial trial phase, the break will be staggered across two weeks each season until 2022, to coincide with the new television deals, with five matches on the first weekend and five the following weekend.
The FA Cup fifth round will be moved to midweek to accommodate the break, with replays being scrapped at that stage. Drawn matches at 90 minutes will go to extra-time and penalties.
Replays will remain for the earlier rounds of the FA Cup, since the third round in particular is regarded as vital to the competition with the possibility of ‘giant-killing’ fixtures which appeal to the TV audiences.
All three divisions of the English Football League (EFL) will remain unchanged with full programmes of matches, while Premier League clubs will be forbidden from competing in lucrative exhibition matches during the break, which will be for players to receive time to rest and recover.
The changes will accommodate a ten-day break and bring the Premier League into line with other leading divisions around Europe, which each enjoy mid-season rests of between 11 and 22 days. However, they all take place between December and January, which is the busiest period for Premier League teams.
A winter pause has widely been called for, with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola warning recently that the festive schedule was “killing” Premier League players, while his cross-city rival Jose Mourinho of Manchester United complained earlier in the season that the lack of a break was damaging to English clubs' hopes of progressing in the Uefa Champions League.
A succession of England managers have also complained about player fatigue when it comes to major tournaments, and the new agreement will allow England players to enjoy a mid-season break ahead of the 2020 edition of the Uefa European Championship national team competition, for which London’s Wembley stadium will host seven games.
“This is not seen to be a way and won’t be [of making money],” said Martin Glenn, the chief executive of the FA. “The Premier League also feel strongly about it. This will be in their rules, so absolutely not. This has to be a player break.”
“We don’t know what the exact effect will be, but if you look at the other big nations they all have some kind of break which allows players to recover in the middle of an intense season. There’s loads of anecdotal data that it’s going to be helpful as much for a mental break as anything else. I also think it’s as important for the Premier League teams competing in the Champions League as it will be for the England team.”
On the FA Cup, Glenn added: “We have never wanted to touch the third round and replays but we felt a movement in the fifth round was a price worth paying.“