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The King

Reserve League Revamped

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As mooted back in April, details have reached us of extensive changes to the format of the Barclays Premier Reserve League for the coming season.

The structure of reserve football in England has long been a bone of contention for all involved, the lack of games, inadequate scheduling and stale, predictable nature of the north/south-oriented fixture list frustrating managers, players and fans alike and prompting a number of clubs to reconsider their participation in the Premier Reserve League. While an article on Chelsea’s official site from April suggested the governing body were already considering a revamp, the recent decision of Fulham, Stoke City and Birmingham City to join Tottenham Hotspur in withdrawing has left the PL with little option but to completely restructure the competition.

This means an end to the old system whereby those Premier League clubs opting to enter a team would be split as evenly and logically as possible into Northern and Southern sections, within which everyone would play each other home and away. Confirmation from the PL is expected in the coming weeks, but our understanding is that the restructure will see the remaining sixteen teams split into three groups, made up as below:

Group A: Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Wigan Athletic.

Group B: Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Everton, Liverpool, Sunderland.

Group C: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Each side will play the other teams in their group twice (home and away) and every other team once (either home or away), meaning a total of 19 games for those in Groups A and B and 20 games for Group C clubs. The Premier Reserve League Play-Off – previously contested between the Northern and Southern champions and won last season by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United second string – will still take place, with the winners of Group A facing the winners of Group B for the right to meet the Group C winners for the national title.

At first glance, the proposed new format looks to be both an improvement and yet still something of a disappointment. Facing rare reserve opponents like Chelsea and Arsenal will certainly make for a more exciting and varied fixture list, with interest in those games likely to be greater than – with all due respect – yet another meeting with the likes of Bolton. A minimum of 19 games is also a slight increase on last year’s 18 (and the jump from 16 to 20 for those in Group C is a significant one). Ultimately however, the feeling remains that the reserve system will still fail to offer the regular competitive football that young players in the 18-21 bracket require to develop, with the long gaps between games that we’ve become accustomed to in recent years likely to remain commonplace.

That said, with the logistical problems posed by teams using lower league grounds as their reserve venues and the increasing number of teams – not just in the top flight – opting to go it alone with ‘development squads’ and tailored programmes of friendlies, tournaments and overseas tours, the Premier League’s hands were very much tied and the new format was arguably the best possible solution at this time. It is to be hoped that the new structure can work sufficiently well so as to persuade the four ‘rebel’ clubs (or any promoted sides who may replace them) to return to the fold, increasing the number of games in the process

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We really should adopt a more competitive structure for the reserve leagues, maybe leagues based on city/ county, with a playoff structure at the end or something, or stick reserve teams in the lowest local leagues.

Countries like France and Spain have their reserves/B-teams playing in actual competitive football, though I don't think English clubs should adopt the B-team option.

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