There are some significant changes ahead for the new season of Champions League football and Liverpool have been handed a boost with Jurgen Klopp proven right over the alterations he had long called for.
English teams playing in Wednesday night Champions League matches will no longer be involved in early kick-off Premier League games the following Saturday.
The Liverpool manager had been speaking out over the scheduling for several years and things came to a head both before and after his side’s trip to the Amex Stadium to face Brighton & Hove Albion on November 28.
Less than 72 hours earlier, the Reds suffered a shock 2-0 home defeat to an Atalanta side they’d thrashed 5-0 in Italy earlier that month.
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BT Sport broadcast both the Atalanta match and Saturday’s 12:30pm kick-off down in Sussex, and after losing to their Serie A opponents, Klopp said: “I’m afraid to say but I think it (running out of steam) could happen not only to us but to other teams as well.
“You (BT Sport) my special friends ask us to go on Saturday at 12.30pm, which is nearly a crime to be honest. It has nothing to do with the game tonight but congratulations for that.
“My only interest in the moment is that I get a thumbs up, nobody injured, let’s recover immediately. We take it.
“The boys are completely disappointed, frustrated, really, but we don’t have time for it to be honest. It’s just get fresh legs as quick as possible and go again, that’s it.”
BT Sport presenter Des Kelly might just be the happiest man in football right now because sure enough, come Saturday, a last minute penalty equaliser from Pascal Gross would deny Liverpool victory on the south coast after Diogo Jota had fired them into the lead on the hour mark.
An angry Klopp snapped at Kelly in a pitchside interview and the two of them held a heated debate over the issue for eight minutes.
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Kelly said: “Maybe you’re firing at the wrong target.
“We work within the Premier League rules and the Premier League makes the rules. That’s the Premier League clubs.”
Klopp replied: “I don’t know how often I have to say it, you picked the 12:30 kick off.
“If we play at 3 o’clock or 5:30, it’s exactly the same.”
Kelly pointed out: “If you come down here and have a go at the broadcasters, it doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t change anything.”
However, Klopp retorted: “After Wednesday, Saturday 12:30 is really dangerous for the players.”
Klopp has repeatedly railed against the issue for several years.
Back in 2018 when Liverpool were facing the prospect of a 12:30pm Merseyside Derby match against Everton at Goodison Park on the Saturday after they tackled Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals, he remarked: “I know countries where they cancel whole matchdays so teams can be in the best shape for big games in Europe. We play at 7.45pm on Wednesday and 12.30 on the Saturday. Oops, it’s only Liverpool.
“We are going to have two very intense games against City and the one in between at Everton is not going to be much less intense either. I would at least like to have seen it put on at a normal time and not at breakfast.”
While giving clubs the ‘weekend off’ is rare, none of the other major clubs in Champions League action last season were forced to play early games the following Saturday though after Wednesday night fixtures.
With 2:30pm Saturday kick-offs in the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich regularly had the least recovery time but La Liga sides wouldn’t play before 3pm on Saturday (Real Madrid had a 1pm Saturday start but that was after a Tuesday match); Paris Saint-Germain’s Ligue 1 games were all 8pm kick-offs, usually Saturday but sometimes Sunday; Serie A sides usually played on Sundays but 5pm Saturday was the earliest it got for Juventus; Porto’s games were late (a Friday 8:30pm came after a Tuesday match) and Ajax only went as early as 3:30pm Saturday.
That will finally change now in England with BT Sport’s ‘prime time’ slot being moved to 7:45pm on Saturdays if one of the teams involved has played a Wednesday night Champions League fixture.
We all know that it’s the lucrative revenues from broadcasting make the Premier League the richest domestic football competition in the world but this long-overdue tweak seems like a rather unobtrusive change and a common sense solution.
Saturday night audiences might prove bigger anyway and with fans thankfully back in stadia in great numbers for the first time in 18 months, atmospheres should also improve with the early kick-offs often notorious for being somewhat flat affairs both on and off the pitch.
So far, Liverpool have dispatched of both Norwich City and Burnley with the minimum of fuss to sit top of the embryonic Premier League table but in many ways this upcoming scheduling change might prove to be Klopp’s biggest victory of the season.