Gustavo Poyet’s diary is a mess and he is not happy about it.
He is almost resigned to today’s FA Cup fifth round tie against Southampton ending in a draw. He admits he would actually rather lose.
It is a shocking thing for any football manager to say, and a position Poyet feels he has been forced into by the authorities and their strange rules and regulations.
A replay would leave Sunderland with four matches to reschedule in the last few months of their relegation battle and precious little room for manouvre.
Again, cup success is looking like a bit of a curse for a team at the wrong end of the table.
Normally, whenever an FA Cup tie is played, the replay date has already been set. Not today,
“Is that normal?” asks the angry Uruguayan. “Is it normal we should play in the week before the (Capital One Cup) final?
“So they’re saying it’s better for you to lose?
“Then I’ll get criticised and we lose two in a row and you’re terrible now, the confidence is down before the final. You have to play for win.
“I would like to know clearly what the date of the replay is and the next round, so if you win now you’re going to play on this date and what the date of the replay is.
“I almost hope we have a replay so we can laugh about the date.
“I don’t want a replay. You can put it there. What is the worst result? A replay. Is it worse than losing? Yes. I don’t know if it makes sense but yes.
“I like to plan ahead but we cannot plan too much ahead at the moment. I wouldn’t like to have a replay, not at all.”
At least it guarantees Sunderland will go hell for leather if today’s lunchtime kick-off is heading for a draw with minutes to go.
Poyet added: “We will try to win it without being stupid.
“It’s difficult to tell the players not to leave anyone back and just go forward, but you can put money on it being a draw!”
The situation is so bad Poyet has been won over to the idea of scrapping FA Cup replays altogether, as is the case in the League Cup.
There are 85 days between now and the end of the season and 54 of them are out of bounds if Sunderland need to rearrange a game. They do.
Their Premier League home match against West Bromwich Albion needs a new date after they reached the League Cup final, as does their trip to Manchester City, postponed because of Wednesday’s terrible weather.
If Sunderland or Liverpool reach the Cup quarter-finals their March 10 Premier League game will have to be moved, while a replay will throw another match into the mix, most likely on the day the sixth round is due to be played.
Poyet complains: “It’s just not knowing what we’re going to do.
“For example, we need to do a fitness test before the end of the season. When do you do it?
“It would be nice to do it in March, but we might be playing West Brom. Okay, maybe the following week, but that week could be Man City. So, depending on today...?
“It’s horrible because the players hate fitness tests but you need to do it so the fitness coach can see what we’ve done and where the players’ fitness levels are in case I’ve made a mistake and played some of them too much.
“It’s important information but at the moment we can’t collect it.”
Of course, there was a time when three end-of-season games in a week was run-of-the-mill in English football.
You can bet your life there will be amateur footballers with busier Aprils and Mays once the pitches dry out from the latest downpour.
Poyet went on: “Maybe it’s me. I probably didn’t mind then because I was on the other side of it as a player, but now I’m analysing from the point of view of a manager and checking all the days you’re training and when you have to have a rest or do other things.
“Is it better to win, draw or lose? That shouldn’t be a question.
“I used to like having games in hand, but I would prefer to already have the points. You try to adapt. Once I can take it. Twice is too many, it is not nice.
“I don’t mind playing three times in a week. I liked it as a player. As a manager it can be a little bit tough because you have to prepare for the games – watch and analyse, but every now and then it’s not a problem.
“I just want the best of these difficult situations. At least we should know what’s going to happen. Does anyone know if there’s a replay when it will be? Why not?”
It should not be impossible to squeeze 38 Premier League matches and all the cup games needed into a season which runs from August until May. After all, the Football League gets by with four more teams per division than the top flight.
A myriad of rules have created this ridiculous situation. Some are sensible, others downright ridiculous.
It all adds up to pretty demanding weeks for a team trying to keep its head above the Premier League waterline.
The biggest spanner in the works is the European competitions.
Uefa rules do not allow games on Champions League or Europa League nights. There are 24 of them between now and the end of the English season (plus two more beyond it).
It seems the bosses of Uefa see an FA Cup fifth-round replay between Southampton and Sunderland as a major threat to the TV viewing figures for Barcelona v Manchester City or Arsenal v Bayern Munich.
Playing games on any of these nights would incur a fine for the Football Association. It is pathetic.
Stupid though it is, it does not even qualify as the daftest of the obstacles.
A Southampton-Sunderland replay could apparently be played the Monday after a Saturday game but not the Saturday before a Monday game because in the first case the Monday game would be classed as a “midweek” fixture and in the second case a “weekend” one – and only one weekend game is allowed per weekend. Confused? You should be.