Second half of PSL season set to be a tight squeeze
There will be little chance for rest and recuperation for players in South Africa's Premier Soccer League with an unusually early start in the New Year for the division's 16 teams.
The final full round of matches for 2017 took place last weekend, although there are some catch-up games still scheduled for this week involving Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United, who have had their fixtures stunted by progress deep into African club competition.
An earlier finish to the domestic season in 2017/18 due to the FIFA World Cup in Russia means it will be a busy, at times even hectic, second half of the season.
The league campaign is scheduled to end on May 12, with the curtain coming down on the campaign a week later with the Nedbank Cup final on May 19. Last season's decider in the competition was played more than a month later on June 24.
For a club like SuperSport, who will still have 19 league games to play, potentially five more in the defence of the Nedbank Cup title they have won for the last two seasons, and possibly four games in the CAF Confederation Cup, it is going to take a heavy toll on their squad.
In that scenario they will have to play 28 games in around 19 weeks, not withstanding all the travel to and from matches.
Whereas in the last campaign the Premier Soccer League were able to extend the season to fit in all matches, they do not have that luxury this year, as FIFA rules state all competitions must be completed by May 21.
The PSL will resume in the New Year on January 5 with the first full round of fixtures for the year, with SuperSport to play an astonishing eight games in 26 days, including meeting champions Wits twice during the month.
It will test the depth of Eric Tinkler's squad, and he will be mindful of his players indulging in too much turkey over the festive season and returning for the New Year out of shape.
The week of February 6-11 will see the Last 32 of the Nedbank Cup played, when the 16 top-flight clubs are joined by eight qualifiers from the National First Division and eight amateur sides from the South African Football Association structures.
The second round will be staged in the week of March 6-11, with the quarterfinals slated for April 17-22 and the semifinals the weekend of May 5-6, who weeks ahead of the scheduled final.
The PSL will also have to contend with the FIFA match date in late March, though this will now not include an African Nations Cup qualifier for Bafana Bafana, as their fixture with Libya has been moved to later in the year.
Through all of this though they will have to make room for the CAF club competition dates.
Bidvest Wits (CAF Champions League) and Cape Town City (CAF Confederation Cup) will compete in the first rounds that are played on the weekends of February 9-11 and February 16-18.
They will be joined in the second round by Mamelodi Sundowns (CAF Champions League) and SuperSport United (CAF Confederation Cup), which are to be staged March 9-11 and March 16-18.
For any South African sides remaining in the Confederation Cup there will be an additional play-off round on April 6-8 and April 13-15, while the group stages of both competitions are set to begin on the weekend of May 4-6.
Fortunately, the group phase will only resume two-and-a-half months later on July 27-29, meaning no more disruptions for relieved PSL officials.
By that stage, however, expect many of the division's top sides to have been tested to the limit by the demanding fixture schedule.