Liverpool are sweating on the fate of their first league title in 30 years, but clubs and the UK government are keen to see the season finished
As coronavirus lockdown continues in the UK, the fate of the 2019-20 Premier League season remains unclear.
Around Europe, seasons have begun to be written off as governments impose strict social distancing measures to limit the spread of Covid-19 and keep people safe.
However, there remains hope that the Premier League can resume play and finish the current campaign.
A meeting between Premier League clubs is planned for May 1 to discuss how the season could be safely resumed, and UEFA has requested leagues be in a position to communicate their plans by May 25.
The current proposed timeline would see Premier League clubs return to full training by May 18, resume playing matches in June, and finish the season in July.
The Eredivisie was cancelled without a league champion, promotion or relegation – a decision which has been slammed as “the biggest disgrace in the history of Dutch sports”.
In France, Ligue 1 was working towards resuming play in June, but those plans were shattered by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s announcement that sport would not take place in the country until September.
La Liga teams have been given the go-ahead to return to training in May but Spain‘s health minister hasn’t offered any guarantee the league can resume before summer.
Despite these potentially worrying signs, talks are ongoing in the Premier League with numerous parties, including the UK government, keen to see play recommence rather than cancel the season.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has told parliament he wants to see play resume, with the government of the opinion that televised football would provide a welcome boost to public morale.
“I personally have been in talks with the Premier League with a view to getting football up and running as soon as possible in order to support the whole football community,” Dowden said.
“But, of course, any such moves would have to be consistent with public health guidance.”
Promisingly, Bundesliga clubs have already returned to training with Serie A sides set to follow in early May, while the Swiss season could reportedly resume by June 8 if there is no worsening of the outbreak in the country.
However, there are numerous problems which need to be overcome.
FIFA medical committee chairman Michel D’Hooghe says football should not return until after the summer but Spanish FA (RFEF) chief Javier Tebas has argued the sport is no more dangerous than some other industries that are still functioning.
The English Football League (EFL) has pledged that rigorous coronavirus testing will be in place before play is resumed, and has also insisted there must be no negative impact on key workers.
Even aside from the safety issues directly related to Covid-19, there are other problems to be resolved.
While players have been given training schedules at home, most will now be some way short of match fitness. Kevin De Bruyne has been among the players voicing their concerns that they will be at increased risk of injury if play resumes.
Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui has warned clubs will need five weeks’ notice to prepare, with FIFA suggesting a temporary rule to allow teams five substitutions in order to better manage players’ fitness.
“Safety of the players is one of FIFA’s main priorities,” a FIFA spokesperson said.
“One concern in this regard is that the frequency of matches may increase the risk of potential injuries due to a player overload.”
Whether players will feel comfortable playing in close quarters with one another is also a concern.
In Germany, Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert is hopeful of receiving government approval to resume play in May.
However, even with games played behind closed doors, there have been warnings over the potential for fans to gather outside stadiums – as happened during Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.
Any of these issues could be enough to scupper plans to resume the season if they can’t be resolved.
As things stand, government support for the Premier League’s return perhaps means the English top flight is among the more likely to resume play.
However, the delicate and unprecedented nature of the situation means predictions are difficult to make.
The example of Ligue 1, which had looked set to resume in May before plans were made redundant by the Prime Minister’s announcement, shows how difficult resuming football in a safe and realistic way is proving to be.
If the season can’t be finished, it is yet to be decided what will happen to the league table, with Liverpool left sweating over the fate of their near-certain first league title in 30 years.
The Eredivisie made standings final without crowning a champion, with Ajax and AZ Alkmaar level on points at the top. Numerous clubs are unhappy with the ruling with Cambuur, denied a near-certain promotion from the second tier, threatening legal action.
Reports in France suggest three options are on the table for Ligue 1: finalising the league table as things stand, going back to the table when every team had played 27 games, or using the table from the halfway point of the season, with 19 games played.
In the Premier League, however, the European qualification spots behind Liverpool have changed hands multiple times throughout the season, and at least eight clubs could realistically be said to be involved in the relegation fight.
The decision to go without promotion and relegation in the Eredivisie is also a warning sign for Leeds and West Brom, who had seemed destined to win automatic promotion from the Championship.
This is what Arsenal’s training sessions look like now the Gunners have returned 👇 pic.twitter.com/c2wh1mN86e
— Goal (@goal) April 28, 2020
At Arsenal, only five players are currently allowed into the London Colney training complex at one time in order to help the club follow social distancing guidelines.
Players arrive in training gear, go straight to an allocated pitch with their own set of footballs, and then return to their cars to go home immediately after their allocated training slot is over.
Only a small number of fitness and medical coaches are on site, and no buildings are currently open.
North London rivals Tottenham have opened their stadium for use by the National Health Service (NHS) as a Covid-19 testing centre, with Brighton’s Amex Stadium being used in the same way.
Chelsea have opened the Millennium Hotel adjacent to Stamford Bridge as free accommodation for NHS staff, and have committed to providing 78,000 meals to the NHS alongside other support measures.