Gates stand locked outside the closed Manchester City Etihad Stadium, in Manchester, northern England, as the English Premier League soccer season has been suspended due to coronavirus, Thursday, April 9, 2020.
Gates stand locked outside the closed Manchester City Etihad Stadium, in Manchester, northern England, as the English Premier League soccer season has been suspended due to coronavirus, Thursday, April 9, 2020. |Jon Super | Associated Press
Soccer

Soccer News: Premier League clubs discuss plans to complete season with Liverpool on top of the standings

It is part of what the league calls "complex planning scenarios" being drawn up around timeframes to eventually be allowed to play with “full support” of government.

Associated Press

By ROB HARRIS, AP Global Soccer Writer

Premier League clubs on Friday discussed how the season can be completed when the government declares it is safe for sports to resume during the coronavirus pandemic.

Britain's national lockdown was extended on Thursday for another three weeks, making it unclear when players can resume training or matches will be permitted, even without fans as is expected.

The league's planning includes an awareness that it could only be possible to play when there is a sufficient availability of COVID-19 testing and medical services can be in place at stadiums that are not being relied on by the health authorities to deal with the pandemic.

It is part of what the league calls "complex planning scenarios" being drawn up around timeframes to eventually be allowed to play with “full support” of government.

“The health and wellbeing of players, coaches, managers, club staff and supporters are our priority and the league will only restart when medical guidance allows,” the Premier League said in a statement. “Today’s shareholders’ meeting (of the 20 clubs) provided an opportunity to discuss possible scheduling models. It remains our objective to complete the 2019/20 season but at this stage all dates are tentative while the impact of COVID-19 develops.”

Liverpool holds a 25-point lead at the top of the standings with nine games remaining in its quest to end a 30-year title drought. Belgium is the only major European nation that wants to prematurely end its topflight season, a plan that is opposed by UEFA.

The last Premier League game was played on March 9 before the competition was suspended after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi were infected with COVID-19.

Hudson-Odoi's teammate, Willian, has highlighted how even playing in closed stadiums presents a health risk for players.

“If we restart playing without fans but there’s contact on the pitch and maybe we can spread the virus between us,” Willian said in a video interview from São Paulo on Thursday. “It’s not a bad idea but they have to know very carefully what’s going to happen. Maybe a player can have the virus and we play against each other, you know?

“I play against someone and I get the virus then I go home after the game to stay with my family and pass the virus to my wife or daughters. So we have to be careful about that.”

Extending the season far beyond its expected end-point in mid-May has additional complications for players like Willian whose contracts expire on June 30.

FIFA has asked for players and clubs to extend contracts until the seasons are eventually concluded, while UEFA has worked on plans for leagues to resume around Europe by July and August.

The three divisions below the Premier League operated by the English Football League announced plans on Friday to ensure all remaining games are available to view on television or be streamed.

"The point at which you will be able to attend games again remains unclear," EFL chairman Rick Parry said in an open letter to fans of the 71 clubs. “The contribution to football’s finances made by match-going supporters should not be underestimated. It is critical to the business model of league football.

"Perhaps the biggest challenge right now is not knowing when we will be able to reintroduce football in front of crowds. We can only hope that the situation develops in such a way that we will be able to do that with the shortest possible break.”

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