How important is the Christmas period in the league season? It was a question always asked in press conferences around Christmastime and it was always the same response. It is a very important phase in the league because you play so many games in a short space of time, a lot of points up for grabs with lots of decisions to be made in a few days whatever your objective. When I was the Liverpool manager, you were not supposed to complain about the fixtures because ‘at a top side it will always be the same’. It was even more difficult for us because we were also playing in the Champions League.
With years of experience and our knowledge of working in different countries, we have learned to cope with the situation but I have to say that you can never have an ideal situation. You must adapt and look for the best possible solution for the team. That’s exactly what we did at Valencia, Liverpool and Inter. If you want to win things you have to make sacrifices. It is easy to keep everyone happy by giving them lots of days off but at the end of the season you won’t win anything if you don’t do what you know is right at the right time.
What we did, depending on the league and the circumstances we were playing in, was the following:
Analyse the fixture list and evaluate the upcoming matches because it is not the same in Spain or Italy where there is a break for 2 weeks as it is in England where you play the Carling Cup or the FA Cup before Christmas and after the New Year for example.
Consider the available players according to the different competitions (some might not be registered to play in the Champions League for example). Also you have to look at the rules on local players (4) or native country players (4) in the 25 on the Champions League list, because you may not be able to include some players who are eligible for domestic competitions.
Consider the short and long term injury list. It’s a time when injuries occur in those teams playing in the most demanding competitions.
Click here to go to the article: 'Too many injuries'.
Consider the religious beliefs of some players and their days of celebration. For Christians, Christmas Day is obviously the most important and, if you are playing in England, you will have to consider the timing of the training sessions.
Consider the players’ country of origin. In Spain or Italy, scheduling the Christmas holidays can be complicated because giving a week off to a European player won’t be the same as giving the same time to a South American player who will lose 3 days travelling, especially if he comes from an area in the centre of Brazil for example. The travelling involved is not the same.Consider fatigue and the powers of recovery for each player, especially with regard to the position they play. It will not be the same for every player with a good capacity to recover, as it will depend on whether he is old or young, or plays centre back and runs less or plays on the wing where you run more and with more intensity.
Consider the weather and the training conditions. This is another aspect to take in to account because we have had experience of not being able to train in December before a Champions League match because we didn’t have undersoil heating. Or because we couldn’t get to the training ground due to snow and the condition of the roads.
Also in the same vein, in Spain and Italy what can happen is that the players that have travelled some distance may have problems getting back due to adverse weather and you have to foresee this because, if you change the holidays too much, some players may not have enough time to train sufficiently before a crucial match.
Consider the travel arrangements to matches. It’s not the same playing at home as it is away – the distance and weather conditions in relation to the travel arrangements have to be planned for.
Consider the squad and rotations. Depending on the size of the squad and the quality of the players that you have, you will be able to manage better or worse the changes you can make for different matches.
Click here to go to the article: 'Why should you rotate players in squads which have a high number of matches?'.
Consider the intensity of each match. You can have an easier or more difficult match than you expected and you must consider this when choosing the line-up in the next game – to maximise player and team performance and to prevent injuries.
Recently a coach was talking to me about the difficulties that he would have this season adapting to two top level competitions at the same time, playing two matches a week and travelling a lot. They didn’t have the experience in planning this level of demand, they didn’t know if it would be better to change players for each game or play the same team if they were winning and risk injury. This is the difference between some clubs and others, the capacity to adapt during the season at the highest level of competition or, even better, like us, reaching the end of the season and still being in contention for a few trophies.
For this reason, the staff you work with are also important as the planning for this time of year is crucial so that you have all options available to you at the end of the campaign.