Neil Humphreys: Pep's right, EPL overload is killing game quality
Pep's correct to criticise fixture madness
Even when Pep Guardiola is wrong, he's still right.
Festive fixture congestion hasn't particularly hurt Manchester City's relentless title charge, but it has affected the English Premier League's credibility.
Too many games in quick succession have diluted the quality of contests, but they've also perhaps benefited Guardiola.
With a dash of irony, the Spaniard's justified complaint has inadvertently underlined the chasm between the haves and the have-nots.
City can cope with playing four games in 10 days. They still cruised to a 3-1 victory against Watford yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The real problem lies with teams like Watford, starved of the resources to seriously threaten a City side playing in third gear.
Guardiola claimed that the EPL fixture overload would "kill" the players, but the lack of rest and recuperation is more likely to kill his opponents and affect interest in the league.
English football's interminable emphasis on blood and guts and flogging its maestros in the bleak midwinter for more than a month without a decent break has long polarised opinion.
Some say it makes the EPL special, emphasising its Boxing Day and New Year traditions of playing every few days through the holiday period.
Others refer to the photos of Bundesliga and La Liga footballers lying on distant beaches and remind us that those tanned torsos are usually twisting away from panting English defenders when the World Cup comes around.
But there are obvious flaws in both arguments.
Several foreign stars are currently trudging from one windswept EPL stadium to another and invariably deliver for their nations in the World Cup. While the Italians failed to even qualify, despite their winter break in Serie A.
But the fixture congestion surely had to play a part in the mediocre fare dished out in recent weeks.
Just three nights ago, the three half-time scores were Burnley 0 Liverpool 0, Leicester 0 Huddersfield 0 and Stoke 0 Newcastle 0; hardly ringing endorsements for the beautiful game.
The goals duly arrived in the second half, but were they the result of swashbuckling endeavour or of exhausted opponents running on empty?
Liverpool's winner at Burnley came in the 94th minute. The Clarets played through the festive period with a fraction of the Reds' resources.
They were dead on their feet.
Stoke conceded a late goal against Newcastle, with manager Mark Hughes admitting he tinkered with his squad, disastrously as it turned out, in a futile bid to deal with too many games in too few days.
At the London Stadium yesterday, West Ham overcame a one-goal deficit to prevail 2-1 with a stoppage-time winner. Thanks to a bizarre quirk in the scheduling, the happy Hammers had not played for a week.
Their opponents, West Brom, were playing 48 hours after drawing against Arsenal. It wasn't so much Andy Carroll surging through the West Brom defence as it was the lactic acid surging through the Baggies' muscles.
They had nothing left to give.
The relentless fixture list essentially handicapped the weaker sides and that's where Guardiola is both right and wrong.
City's fourth game in 10 days still ended in victory. Of course it did.
Kyle Walker's groin strain gifted Watford a late consolation, but the three points were never in doubt. Gabriel Jesus' ligament damage may rule him out for six weeks, but Sergio Aguero was hardly a downgrade.
Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones passed their fitness tests, before being replaced by Bernardo Silva and Danilo respectively, the kind of proven pedigree that Watford manager Marco Silva has no hope of ever signing.
City have suffered their share of muscular injuries of late, but they actually increased their lead to 15 points in the same period.
In reality, the packed schedule reinforced and widened the gap between richest and poorest, punishing the little guys and rewarding the giants.
That said, Guardiola saved his most valid criticism till last in an almost throwaway comment.
Think about the players, he said. They are artists.
They certainly are at City. But four games in 11 days reduces them to overworked automatons, testing not their art but their endurance, as if the EPL was a daft ironman contest.
The rested artists of the Bundesliga and La Liga will soon return for the Champions League with blank canvasses in hand, while City have been scribbling away like over-eager toddlers for a month.
Post-New Year fatigue must be a factor in the coming weeks.
Quantity may bring in the TV revenue for the EPL, but only quality will bring home the Champions League.