In the grand scheme of things, football seems pretty irrelevant right now. Yet for so many people isolated at home across the world, a return to the field could provide a pick-me-up in testing times.
The escapism football provides is being missed more than ever—and for Premier League fans, there is hope. Major figures running English football have shown every intention of getting this season finished. They are not entirely sure when or even how, but the aim has been to get this done.
It won't be easy, but avenues are being explored to discover a way it might work.
The Premier League wants Liverpool to celebrate their league title, it wants European spots accurately decided and it wants the relegation zone to play out fairly, if at all possible.
We might see football again this season in England—just not as we know it.
Such is the impact of COVID-19 that never-before-seen levels of security and planning are going to be needed.
We could see squads living together in hotels for the rest of the season. We might see games being played at neutral venues across the country. And every match could be live on our television sets, with games played daily to squeeze the remaining schedule into just six weeks.
It's important to stress that everything mentioned here is hypothetical, merely some of the ideas being thought about. But we reached out to B/R sources throughout the game to get an idea of how all this might fall into place.
First things first: If football does return anytime soon, no supporters will be allowed inside the stadiums. That much is certain.
It is also expected that neutral venues will be chosen in which all fixtures will be played, and insiders believe all of these stadiums would be outside of London.
Having games behind closed doors reduces risk of players or officials becoming contaminated, but further than that, the plan is to limit the chances of large gatherings of fans meeting outside stadiums—as was witnessed in some countries when grounds were closed off earlier in March. London is the area hardest hit by the coronavirus, and there would be careful measures taken to ensure no extra strain is put on health or police services.
The neutral venues could host more than one match per day, and minimal matchday staff would be on call. It is a complicated idea, but ferrying the teams in and out of the stadiums and retaining core workers might be a solution. But this still requires much further exploration in the coming days and weeks, sources say.
Provisionally, most sides aim to return to training around mid-April for an intense schedule that would get them back up to speed for the run-in. There should be word soon on whether May is a suitable time to reconvene.
But as part of all this, they are going to need a period of incubation. In order for games to go ahead, everyone involved will need to remain free of COVID-19.
Testing across the board would have to be undertaken for any person who has a role around matchdays, but measures that prevent them from mixing with anyone else before and after games outside of those hours would also be taken.
With that in mind, it is thought teams would use accommodation within their training or stadium complex, where possible, to keep all staff involved in the games. If that is not possible, they may need to take over hotels and additionally screen other staff on the premises.
Essentially, the players and other officials could be in quarantine from the moment they return to full training in April.
It's worth reiterating that this whole situation is extremely complex, and these are just suggestions at this time. But if the season is to be finished, these scenarios may have to become a reality.
Two players told B/R they have already been told to prepare mentally for the fact that they could be playing three games a week.
The schedule is going to be tight, and other competitions could feel the impact. Some people within the game feel the FA Cup will be scrapped to ease the burden.
With players holed up in team camps, being ferried to isolated training sessions and into empty stadiums for games, the season is not going to have the same feel as anything we have ever seen before.
One further area of interest in all this will be the implementation of VAR.
This is the first season it has been used in the Premier League, and it has raised plenty of fresh debate. But some sources are unclear as to how it would work if social distancing remains in place.
Typically, we see the officials sat in close quarters at the VAR Hub at Stockley Park, west London, studying screens and having close discussions over incidents.
The only TV screens fans want to talk about are their own—and there should be good news on that front. One of the main motivating factors for the Premier League to complete this season is to satisfy their contracts with broadcasters, and the likelihood is more games being shown, particularly in England, than at any time before.
A few weeks ago, there was a popular notion that the season could be voided, and The Athletic's David Ornstein reported on Friday that some club officials are starting to think about the moral grounds of continuing the season.
But as revealed in The Telegraph, in the worst-case scenario of this season having to be cut short, the term "curtailed" is going to be used—and that would give Liverpool the title.
In the Netherlands there has been a different outlook, emergency plans are being put in place to decide how the campaign ends, and the idea is that the current standings decide which teams qualify for European competition next season, with no league winner and no teams relegated. Additionally, the top two from the second tier would be promoted.
But Europe's governing body, UEFA, has specific staff in place working on action plans for all leagues. After the first conference call on Tuesday, it maintained an ambition to conclude all competition by June 30, "should the situation improve and resuming playing be appropriate and prudent enough," per Sky Sports' Bryan Swanson.
In truth, we don't know whether football will return soon. We don't know for sure that this season will be concluded. But we do know that no stone will be left unturned in trying to bring the campaign to a natural conclusion.
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