Scotland's top players face over 40 games before end of 2020 in packed schedule

Celtic's Callum McGregor has played the most minutes of any player in world football in 2019/20, and featured 183 for club and country since 2017/18
Celtic's Callum McGregor has played the most minutes of any player in world football in 2019/20 so far, and has featured 183 for club and country since 2017/18

With the Premiership fixtures announced, some players in Scotland face 40 games in the space of five months.

With all sorts of delayed fixtures to fit in, a gruelling autumn and winter schedule awaits the country's top players in what could be a momentous season in the Premiership and for Scotland.

Here, BBC Scotland examines the challenge ahead.

The numbers

A glut of fixtures, some of which are still to be scheduled, leave a pile of games to get through before the end of the year. Clearly the clubs with European and international commitments - Celtic, Rangers, Motherwell and Aberdeen - will be most affected.

Celtic and Aberdeen also have up to two games from last season's Scottish Cup to fit in at some point this season, while Rangers have the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie with Bayer Leverkusen to play in early August.

When you add in eight international fixture dates from September to November, it becomes an arduous schedule.

For example, Callum McGregor and James Forrest - both of whom are likely to feature heavily for Scotland as well as Celtic - could end up playing 44 games before the end of 2020 if Celtic reach the group stage of European competition and get to the Scottish Cup final, while also progressing to the last four of the League Cup, which is due to be finished next year.

The same could be said for Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack, who could play 41 matches before the end of the year if Rangers make the 2020-21 Europa League group phase for the third year in a row and negotiate the first two rounds of the League Cup.

If they were to somehow overturn the 3-1 first-leg deficit against Leverkusen and reach the final of the 2019-20 Europa League, it would be 44.

Apperances: last three seasons
Appearances for club and country since start of 2017/18 season

Tough run on already heavy legs

Given players have just had three months off full training, and that European qualifiers have been reduced to a single leg (with the exception of the the Champions League play-off round) it could be argued that players should be able to cope. However, lockdown has not exactly been a holiday for first-team squads.

Plus, the bigger picture is the overload over a number of seasons. McGregor has played 183 games in the last three seasons for club and country, Forrest is on 179. That's an average of around 60 every season, even with the last campaign's early finish. The possibility of playing 44 in just four months lays bare the task they face.

Despite other leagues around Europe having resumed, Old Firm players still make the top 10 footballers with most minutes in season 2019-20, according to a list compiled by McGregor sits top.

When you add in the second half of the season and the prospect of Scotland featuring at a European Championship, followed by the resumption of European qualifiers for next season in July again, it becomes a relentless calendar year for some players.

This is only emphasised amid the current financial climate brought on by the pandemic, which will likely mean tighter squads.

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