The Premier League has confirmed it will introduce a winter break from 2019-20. Here, we set out exactly how it will fit into the English calendar.
Why is the winter break being introduced?
Foreign managers have long campaigned for a winter break, as is enjoyed by all other major European leagues. It is claimed the rest benefits players for the second half of the season, especially those in the latter stages of the Champions League and the Europa League.
It is also hoped that giving England players a winter break ahead of Euro 2020 will give the national side a better chance of success.
When would the first winter break be?
It will be introduced from 2019-20, when the next TV deal kicks in. The recent TV rights deals, which were awarded earlier this year, were more flexible to allow for a winter break if desired.
What date would the winter break start?
The first winter break, or “midseason player break” as the Premier League is calling it, will take place in February 2020.
But, to satisfy the demands of TV companies, it is a split break. Premier League football will not actually stop. Essentially, one full round of Premier League games is split in half and played over two weekends.
That means one half of the Premier League will take two weeks off, then the other half will do the same, but with an overlap. This means there are no blank weekends for broadcasting — five games on the first weekend and five on the second.
With the FA Cup fifth round moving, that suggests the winter break will begin after the fixtures on the weekend of Saturday, Feb. 1. There would then be five games each on the following two weekends, before a full programme returns on the weekend of Feb. 22.
So the packed festive schedule will remain?
Yes, it is far too popular among fans and broadcasters. Even managers such as former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger have admitted that the schedule through Christmas and the New Year is an important part of English football.
How long will the break be?
All clubs are set to be guaranteed a minimum of 13 days 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 2016-17 it was 30 days. 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 will not follow suit even at Championship level. With 46 rounds of games to play it would struggle to find space.
Would the FA Cup be affected?
Yes, as one round of Premier League games will now take up two weekends, the FA Cup fifth round — which would have been scheduled for the weekend of February 15, 2020 — will move to midweek and replays will be scrapped in this round. Replays had already been ditched in the quarterfinals as of this season.
Any drawn fifth-round ties would go to extra time and penalties. Replays would still remain in the earlier rounds.
It had been suggested that the whole 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.
As a round of the FA Cup will no longer be played on a weekend, TV rights holders will be compensated for this change by the Premier League through its own broadcast deals.
Is the winter break really going to make a difference?
Any team that gets knocked out of the FA Cup in the early rounds effectively gets an extended break anyway.
This season Liverpool had 10 days off in February after their fourth-round exit, and jetted off to Marbella in Spain for warm-weather training. And 12 months earlier, after being knocked out at the same stage, they flew out to Spain as they were without a game for 16 days between Feb. 11 and 27.
In fact most Premier League clubs already jet out for warm weather training even without an official winter break.
Will teams go off and play glamour friendlies?
An interesting point. Premier League rules will be put in place to prevent that happening, so any hopes of money-spinning trips around the globe look unlikely.
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 season Borussia Dortmund played Fortuna Duesseldorf and Zulte-Waregem while Bayern Munich took on Al-Ahli and Sonnenhof Grossaspach.
Added to that, the Premier League’s break is currently scheduled to take place at a different time to other major European leagues. However, Major League Soccer and Chinese Super League teams are into their preseason training schedules so it doesn’t sound completely unrealistic that friendlies would be desired. Also, the Australian A-League teams are available. But the Premier League is determined to prevent the break being abused for financial gain.
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.