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Man City have new fixture advantage over Chelsea and Liverpool that Pep Guardiola craved – Joe Bray

If Manchester City have established an 11 point lead in the Premier League during their busiest period of the season, imagine what they can do with a much-needed easing of the fixture schedule.

A regular complaint of Pep Guardiola’s is the welfare of players and the tight turnaround between games, as City compete on multiple fronts for silverware, often in midweek. It was telling that the recent gap of six days between beating Newcastle and Leicester either side of Christmas was their first midweek off since the opening fortnight of the season.

City are used to playing every three or four days, and have a squad capable of rotation to soak up the workload.

But it doesn’t stop Guardiola and some of his players calling for greater help and focus on the implications such a busy schedule can have on elite players — especially if they’re regularly reaching the end of domestic competitions before taking part in summer international tournaments.

So Guardiola will be relieved to have navigated a December that threw up seven fixtures, six of which City managed to win. They now head into much more appealing January. That is because City now have a luxury they haven’t had in five years due to their exit from the Carabao Cup.

Some free time.

The month starts well with a nice six days rest before an opportunity to rotate further with an FA Cup trip to League Two side Swindon. Judging by some players’ social media profiles, they have been allowed some well-deserved time off this week after the win at Arsenal.

Then, another week off following the trip to Wiltshire gives plenty of time for players to recover before a huge home clash with Chelsea in the Premier League in a fortnight. Seven days later comes the trip to Southampton, before a week off entirely for a winter break at the end of January.

Assuming City get past Swindon in the cup, an FA Cup fourth round tie follows on February 5, before the next time City are scheduled to play in midweek is when Brentford visit the Etihad on February 9. After that comes two more games in a week with the trip to Norwich and then to Lisbon to face Sporting in the Champions League restoring the busy schedule.

City will be relatively happy to have the next five midweeks free, though, with just four fixtures to play in 29 days, including the potential FA Cup fourth round tie.

Compare that to Chelsea and Liverpool, whose managers have both complained this week at City’s relentlessness in the title race to pull 11 points clear ahead of their showdown on Sunday.

Both have lower league opposition in the FA Cup to rotate against, which will be needed as the third round ties fall in-between the Carabao Cup semi-finals this week. Chelsea face home and away games with Tottenham, while Liverpool face Arsenal at the Emirates and then Anfield to take up the next two midweek slots.

So when City come to face Chelsea on January 15, they will have had one game against League Two opposition. Chelsea will have had two intense clashes with Spurs, and a home clash with National League leaders Chesterfield in the cup.

To make life more difficult for Chelsea, they face a league meeting with Spurs before the winter break, as one of six fixtures in 21 days in January. Liverpool play six times in 20, and could have to fit in another if their postponed Boxing Day clash with Leeds is rearranged.

Liverpool must find a date to reschedule that clash, and only have four free midweek spaces before the end of the season that aren’t pencilled in for FA Cup or Champions League games. If they reach the Carabao Cup final, another game will have to be rearranged.

So now is the time for Guardiola to show what his side can do when they have the freedom to spend some proper time on the training ground, and ensure they take advantage of a nicer schedule than their rivals to keep the pressure on in the title race.

Guardiola has finally got the time he’s been wanting for years. Now he has to put his money where his mouth is.

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