Fixture congestion is almost always cited as a potential pitfall, but when your squad is in form, the matches can't come quick enough. After this weekend's cancellations in the English Premier League (and with weather's effect expected to be felt over the next two weeks), crowding of fixtures could become an issue for Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur - the four title aspirants who've had matches rescheduled. Whether a club is juggling multiple competitions or their match's new date, squad depth will be tested. For the squad that carry a viable second string, the postponement could turn into blessings.
Looking back eight months, you could argue that an impacted schedule helped turn the fortunes of Spurs' entire club. Granted, it's hard to argue that with a straight face, but stay with me (I've got a premise to build). Last spring, Tottenham was on the edge of their first Champions League qualification, in what looked like a coin-flip battle with Manchester City. Unfortunately for Spurs faithful, mid-April saw a run of matches that included Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, and City. Throw in a home match with Bolton, and Spurs were playing five matches in 22 days. That's not the kind of congestion that will bring tears of sympathy from the football press, but it's two more league matches than a team would normally play in a three week span.
More important for Spurs' Champions League chances, though: The increased frequency of fixtures came with Tottenham finding a run of form. Though they had lost at Sunderland the weekend before the Arsenal match, Spurs came into their defining stretch having won five of six. Carrying that momentum into their next five matches, Spurs would got 12 points, losing only at Old Trafford, en route to their first Champions League qualification.
For Tottenham, congestion came at the right time, though perhaps as important, Spurs were a club set-up to take of it. Thanks to the previous year's purchases, Spurs had as much quality depth as anybody in the league. Combine that with good form and you have the good kind of perfect storm, one which had Tottenham perfectly equipped to push past City. Spurs closed the season strong, ended up in Champions League, won their group ... easily moved past Milan, beat Barcelona in the final, and now Britons have to call Harry Redknapp "Sir."
And of course, those last three things haven't happened. Yet.
We can take the formula of form and depth and ask who this weekend's cancellations may have given an advantage. While a deeper teams could be helped by fixtures scheduled tighter later in the season,that's not a trade-off you want to make when your squad is playing well now. And if your team is not playing well, the weekend off came at the right time, but if you have a thin team that may not respond well to fixture congestion? The weekend off may have swapped one problem for another.
With that in mind, who are some potential winners and losers from this weekend's fixtures? Those were were hurt (or helped) by not having to play as well as those whose league lives would have been different had their match been postponed?
And because we don't want to end a holiday story on a sour note, we'll start with the losers.
Bolton Wanderers - The Trotters have hit their first rough patch of the season. They could have used a break rather than a trip to the Stadium of Light. At another point of the season, you could see Bolton winning this match, but an already tough environment was made more difficult by the elements and their form. Bolton ended up losing 1-0 and were passed by Sunderland, who now sit sixth.
Wolverhampton Wanderers - Wolves are trying to find a stride that will lift them above the drop. Coming off a derby victory against Birmingham City, this weekend's match at The Hawthorns represented their chance to build momentum. Nope. Postponed, and although Wolves may have things figured out the time they face Brom, the Baggies may also be back on course.
Blackburn Rovers - With the surprise firing of Sam Allardyce mid-week and a caretaker manager running the squad, Rovers could have used a week off. Instead, they played and ended-up dropping points to last place West Ham United. It's hard to imagine them giving the Hammers dropping points if Sam Allardyce were still boss.
Wigan Athletic - Draws with Everton and Stoke City coupled with a visiting Aston Villa gave Roberto Martínez reason to believe the Latics were ready for a run, but the match at the DW was postponed. The next time they face Aston Villa, Villa may be closer to their 2009-10 selves and Hugo Rodallega may not be facing a struggling Richard Dunne and James Collins.
Manchester United - The Red Devils have not won at Stamford Bridge since 2002. Sunday's match was lining up as their best chance to do so. Odds are Chelsea aren't as vulnerable when the match finally takes place.
Manchester City - Oops! City actually lost on Monday, but they stood to benefit, had they beaten Everton at Eastlands. They would have gone into Christmas on top of the table, a huge piece of validation for coach and squad alike. In addition, City's dependency on Carlos Tévez makes fixture congestion's toll a dicey prospect. Everton had been playing at a nadir and ... and everything was lining up for the Citizens! And then they allow two goals in 19 minutes.
Fulham - Is it too much to suggest that a loss at Anfield could have cost Mark Hughes his job? Perhaps, but with one of Wolves or Wigan likely to get points this weekend, a loss could have thrown to Cottagers into the drop. Instead, Fulham get a weekend off and West Ham at home this Sunday.
Sunderland - Bolton's confidence has been shaken, and Sunderland was still riding high going into Saturday's match. It was the perfect time to play the Trotters, and by making sure the match kicked-off, the Black Cats allowed themselves to move into sixth place.
Birmingham City - Like Fulham, Brum needed time to reassess. Last week's loss to Wolves showed the Blue still have not found themselves, and against a visiting Newcastle United that's gotten all their players back from suspension, Alex McLeish's side was ready to give up points they would be better suited to contest later in the year. Now, they get some more time to regroup.
Tottenham Hotspur - Everybody expects to get three points from Blackpool, but few are actually getting the result. Why not play them later in the season, when Cinderella has to take off her make-up and the season's worn the Tangerines thin? And any match that can be scheduled for later in the season - when the likes of Tom Huddlestone, Rafael van der Vaart and Ledley King may be available? Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, too.