FOR ten months of the year, Premier League footballers are playing at full gas for every minute of every game.
Nobody can ever be accused of taking it easy in England.
The players bounce from one competition to another, shuffled in and out of stadiums as they chase down the game’s biggest honours.
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They cannot get near the biggest one of all, though.
Leicester — plucky Leicester — were the last English team standing in the Champions League before Atletico Madrid eliminated them 2-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.
Once again the European Cup has proved beyond Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham.
In three of the last five years since Chelsea won it, the Premier League has failed to produce a semi-finalist. It is a dreadful record.
Before Jamie Vardy’s 61st-minute strike at the King Power on Tuesday, the champions of England had barely laid a glove on Diego Simeone’s side over two legs.
They were second at everything — skill, stamina and speed.
Simeone rested five players last weekend, leaving Antoine Griezmann on the bench for 90 minutes during their workout against Osasuna.
They won 3-0 at the Vicente Calderon and nobody thought anything of it.
Back in England, Leicester’s interim manager Craig Shakespeare was wrestling with his conscience before their Premier League clash at Crystal Palace.
The temptation was to play a second string, a shadow side against the Eagles to keep his first-choice players fresh for the second leg of a massive Euro quarter-final.
It would have risked his reputation, with the credibility of the league at stake against a Palace side fighting for survival. Instead, Shaky went full strength, convincing his players he wanted momentum going into a do-or-die game against their Spanish opponents.
The intensity, the competitive edge, the physical demands of every Premier League fixture means players must dig deep every week.
Leicester were 2-0 up at Selhurst Park before their legs finally gave up on them and allowed Palace to salvage a 2-2 draw. Just over 72 hours later, Shaky was throwing them into the biggest game of their lives against a team with years of Champions League know-how.
Atletico, finalists twice in the last three years, are old hands at this.
They were fresh, focused and fit for the second leg.
It is a credit to Leicester that they managed to make a game of it at all. Shaky had no preparation time out on the grass — the one thing coaches crave between matches.
Instead, the Leicester manager’s work was done in the classroom, pointing out some of the areas they hoped to exploit against Atletico.
It is no way to plan for a match as big as this.
Jose Mourinho, a two-time Champions League winner with Porto and Inter Milan, frequently complains about fixture congestion.
The Manchester United boss is right with his claims of an advantage for Chelsea, where Antonio Conte has been able to spend days out on the training field with his players to prepare for an assault on the Premier League title.
Conte’s had time to prep for each clash instead of being propelled head-first into a different competition on any given day of the week.
Next season, when Chelsea are playing in European competition again, the Blues boss will have his work cut out to keep his players fresh.
Demands will be huge, even on a 25-man playing squad.
The money will tell you that English football is in rude health, with the top flight awash with cash and riches beyond its wildest dreams.
According to Deloitte, the combined income of the 20 Premier League clubs last season was an eye-popping £3.6billion.
It means bigger wages and bigger transfer fees.
The financial rewards for staying in the Prem — £100m-plus this season — are far greater than any run in the Champions League.
It is one reason why the focus is on the top flight, the annual 38-game battle to stay in the world’s most successful league.
In Spain, Germany and Italy, Europe’s premier club competition is an obsession.
The Champions League is the biggest test, the ultimate prize for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich.
Here in England, it is in danger of becoming a distraction.