Pandemic warps football schedules
DUSSELDORF, Germany (AP) :
When the Champions League and Europa League return next week amid the coronavirus pandemic, the teams remaining in the competitions will be resuming following a vastly different set of preparations.
For Italian teams, it's the last stretch in a packed schedule that included two games a week since June. The French league stopped in March, leaving Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) to schedule friendlies before two domestic cup finals.
When PSG faces Atalanta and Juventus plays Lyon in the Champions League, those contrasts will be tested.
"It's clear that the conditions aren't normal," Simon Rolfes, the sporting director of Bayer Leverkusen, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
"I think we have to accept that there are certain points where everything isn't optimal or exactly the same, and that's just the case because of the pandemic. Obviously, it isn't the equality in competition that you'd normally wish for, but it's not the time to achieve that. Otherwise, it can't happen at all."
Leverkusen tried to balance rest and training ahead of its Europa League game against Rangers on August 6, five months after the German team won the first leg 3-1.
Leverkusen gave players a 17-day break to clear their heads following its German Cup final loss to Bayern Munich on July 4 before going back to training.
"Since we've only got a short break, the players don't lose much," Rolfes said. "It's not the sort of preparation you have after five, six, seven weeks on vacation."
The European tournaments will be played using new formats in Portugal and Germany five months after the coronavirus shut down the European season.
The late finishes will give players little chance to catch their breath as the last games of the 2019-20 season flow quickly into the opening games of 2020-21.
Tiredness means more muscle injuries and poorly timed tackles. World players' union FIFPro is monitoring the situation with concern.
"The number of recovery days between matches is not sufficient much of the time," FIFPro medical director Vincent Gouttebarge told the AP. "It's the cumulative exposure to this load. Week after week with the club obviously, with the national team, travelling perhaps from one country to another."