This stage of the season really tests football clubs, whether challenging for titles, trying to stave off relegation or mentally preparing for meaningless matches while camped securely in the middle of the table.
The former is hazardously difficult as players and managers must prepare for season-altering matches every three to four days. This is a test of mental, physical and emotional strength which can assault the human body to the point of breakdown.
Manchester City and Tottenham just played out one of the greatest matches in history in their second leg Champions League tie which City won but saw Spurs advance on away goals. The ebb and flow of the match was truly remarkable with some of the greatest offensive players in the world making brilliant defenders look feeble. The climax was breath-taking with a tie-changing goal creating exhilaration amongst the City fans, players and management only to be called back due to offside, spotted by VAR. Manager Pep Guardiola referred to it as one of the most dramatic 10 seconds in history. Then three days later, they had to battle it out again in the Premier League, the most fiercely contested domestic competition in the world, this time with City coming out on top 1-0. The emotional highs and lows of such events can be more fatigue inflicting that the actual physical output which is why this stage of the season reveals true champions.
It’s not only at the top of the Premier League or Champions League that this test of attrition occurs. Cardiff and Brighton are currently battling to just maintain Premier League status with significantly smaller squads then the top, cash-infused clubs while in the Championship, Leeds and Sheffield United are fighting for the last promotion spot where success equals and additional £60 million into the clubs coffers. In leagues around the world, titles are being fought for, survival is being yearned for and players are putting themselves on the line for the success of their clubs and ultimately, for the rare feeling of supremacy.
The Gladiators are entering the Coliseum for the last battle.