With the resumption of the Premier League put back to at least the end of April, further doubt has been cast over when the 2019/20 season will be concluded.
Clubs and officials met on Thursday to discuss plans for the remainder of the season following the coronavirus outbreak, and it was announced that professional football in England will not resume until April 30 at the earliest.
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A statement from the Premier League, EFL and the Football Association, along with the Women’s professional game, the Professional Footballers’ Association and the League Managers’ Association confirmed the extension to the suspension.
The newly postponed Premier League fixtures
Aston Villa vs Wolves
Arsenal vs Norwich
Bournemouth vs Newcastle
Brighton vs Man Utd
Crystal Palace vs Burnley
Watford vs Southampton
Sheff Utd vs Tottenham
West Ham vs Chelsea
Man City vs Liverpool
Everton vs Leicester
Newcastle vs West Ham
Man Utd vs Bournemouth
Burnley vs Sheff Utd
Leicester vs Crystal Palace
Norwich vs Brighton
Southampton vs Man City
Tottenham vs Everton
Chelsea vs Watford
Liverpool vs Aston Villa
Wolves vs Arsenal
Crystal Palace vs Chelsea
Bournemouth vs Tottenham
Everton vs Southampton
Watford vs Norwich
West Ham vs Burnley
Arsenal vs Leicester
Sheff Utd vs Wolves
Aston Villa vs Man Utd
Brighton vs Liverpool
Liverpool vs Burnley
Bournemouth vs Leicester
Man Utd vs Southampton
Norwich vs West Ham
Watford vs Newcastle
Wolves vs Everton
Brighton vs Man City
Sheff Utd vs Chelsea
Tottenham vs Arsenal
Aston Villa vs Crystal Palace
The governing bodies had originally agreed a suspension last Friday until early April 4, but with the progress of COVID-19 remaining unclear, the health and welfare of players, staff and supporters has been made the top priority.
The statement read: “We have collectively agreed that the professional game in England will be further postponed until no earlier than April 30.”
The decision to push back the date had been widely expected, as Sky Sports News‘ chief reporter Bryan Swanson highlighted on Thursday, but the 2019/20 season has been extended indefinitely in order to achieve what proved to be the unanimous aim of the various organisations.
“The further suspension of English football is no big surprise,” he told Sky Sports. “The game accepts that it cannot continue at the moment as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.
“Under the FA’s rules and regulations, the season shall terminate not later than June 1, but officials have effectively agreed not to enforce that. In summary, football has given itself more time in these extraordinary circumstances.
“There is a clear determination within the game to finish the season before considering the start of next season. The statement does accept that the spread of coronavirus remains unclear, and what English football is trying to do is bring a degree of clarity to clubs in what is still a hugely volatile and unpredictable landscape.”
So when can we expect the Premier League to resume?
A return of domestic action at the end of April still appears ambitious. All plans are subject to change given continued uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, and all decisions will fundamentally be driven by the government.
The likelihood is that will change once more in a couple of weeks, while European football would like to have all of its commitments fulfilled by the end of June.
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“That date, June 30, remains flexible, particularly if the FIFA working group decide to relax the rules on player contracts and registrations,” added Swanson.
“This is still a fluid environment with plenty of opinions and ideas. Clubs are going to continue talks next week but public health has and will always be the top priority.”
What would be the best-case scenario?
With so many unknowns, let us attempt to plot how the season can be concluded based on the revised resumption of April 30.
That would mean Gameweeks 36 to 38 would remain in their current positions in the calendar. For many Premier League clubs, that would mean only six games that need rearranging between Monday May 3 and June 30.
When could the six games be made up?
Ten of the 20 Premier League clubs have just nine games to play in all competitions: Liverpool, Tottenham, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Everton, Southampton, Brighton, West Ham, Watford, Bournemouth.
Aston Villa have 10 more fixtures to fulfil, including their game in hand against Sheffield United. The Blades are one of eight Premier League clubs still in the FA Cup, meaning there will naturally be further postponements should that competition be played out within the current allocated windows as agreed at the start of the season.
Manchester City have by far the most congested schedule. Provided they progress to the Champions League and FA Cup finals, they could have as many as 19 games to play between now and the end of the campaign.
UEFA’s decision on Tuesday to postpone Euro 2020 until the summer of 2021 was with a commitment to complete European leagues and UEFA competitions by June 30 – and this could lead to one-legged ties across both the Europa League and the Champions League.
Including the two previous postponed rounds of Premier League fixtures, six Gameweeks need to be re-arranged.
For those clubs, both not in European competition and not due to face either City or Wolves, five midweek fixtures would extend the Premier League season until early June in theory.
So what about the FA Cup?
The FA Cup quarter-finals were due to take place between March 21-22, with the semi-finals on April 18 and April 19. The Wembley showpiece is still set for May 23, although that too is now likely to change.
Should completing the league season be made the priority, the three remaining rounds could be fulfilled once the 38 league fixtures have been completed.
The FA is yet to provide any further detail on how the cup competition will be played out, but Thursday’s statement added: “We are united in our commitment to finding ways of resuming the 2019/20 football season and ensuring all domestic and European club league and cup matches are played as soon as it is safe and possible to do so.”
When could European competitions be concluded?
Wolves remain in Europa League contention and could still face 15 games should they progress to the final in Gdansk on May 27, in addition to their nine remaining Premier League fixtures.
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Manchester United are still battling on three fronts: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are in a strong position to advance to the Europa League quarter-finals having beaten LASK 5-0 away from home before the suspension, while they have been drawn to face Norwich in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
There are still four remaining Champions League last-16 ties to be completed – including Chelsea’s trip to face Bayern Munich and Manchester City’s game with Real Madrid at the Etihad – while the quarter-finals were due to take place in the first two weeks of April.
The semi-final first legs will also now need to be rearranged, having been scheduled to be played on April 28 and 29.
Given the pandemic has affected all European leagues, and therefore all European cup competitions, UEFA is looking into ways of ensuring all nations can avoid cancelling scheduled fixtures.
There could be a way of condensing both European club competitions. Mini tournaments to decide the Champions League and Europa League this season will be options on the table when UEFA convenes on Tuesday.
How are the games likely to resume eventually?
Could many of the games still be played behind closed doors once the Premier League does return?
Public health will always remain the No 1 priority. Premier League clubs understand the need to resume games. But they also understand the game will always remain second to health.
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