The Premier League is on the brink of presenting a provisional fixture list for the rest of the season to its clubs, with the unfortunate ones having to face a sequence of three games in one week.
The league’s football operations team is working to finalize an updated schedule that features full matchday rounds on six long weekends, starting on Friday 19 June to Monday 22 June, and three-midweek options, organizing games on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The purpose of this arrangement is for the midweek matchday rounds to be 23-25 June, 7-9 July, and 14-16 July.
There are two addition fixtures which in other words are outstanding matches, coming from the games in hand when the season was halted – Manchester City v Arsenal and Aston Villa v Sheffield United – which will be the first set of matches to be played, on Wednesday 17 June. The expectation is to finish the league season on the weekend of 25-26 July, with the FA Cup final to be played on Saturday 1 August.
It was agreed upon by the clubs that this was the more preferred and suitable structure and, before a meeting was held on Thursday, the league’s operations team has sought to allocate fixtures to specific dates. It has been a stressful task no doubt, with various interested stakeholders to align, including broadcasters and safety advisory groups.
The operations team has prioritized the league’s guidance that teams shouldn’t play twice in 48 hours. It remains to be seen whether or not they can spare every club this unwanted possibility. However, it is inevitable that, in a best-case scenario, some clubs will play three times in seven days. For instance, after some Monday matches, the clubs involved would have to play on Thursday and then at least one of them on Sunday, as both could not play again in the lone slot the following Monday.
The FA Cup quarter-finals are slated for the weekend of 27-28 June and the semi-finals for 18-19 July. The only two free midweek slots in this arrangement follow the Cup weekends, allowing for league games displaced by these ties to be played. While the original running order of the league match rounds will be respected, the games that stand to be bumped into midweek action by the quarter-finals of the FA Cup are Bournemouth v Newcastle, Arsenal v Norwich, Brighton v Manchester United, Everton v Leicester, Manchester City v Liverpool, Sheffield United v Tottenham and West Ham v Chelsea.
The provisional fixture list will be thrown open for debate at Thursday’s meeting and there are sure to be complaints lodged from those that feel that the arrangement and spacing are against them.
Teams will now be expected to ramp up preparations for the restart after the league gave approval for friendlies as long as strict measures around hygiene are followed, with instructions including players traveling in their own cars, and possibly in their kit.
These friendly matches will help clubs build match fitness and will be played at stadiums or training grounds. Clubs, who were sent a guidance note by the league on Tuesday, will need to ensure they adhere to physical-distancing guidelines. Players involved will need to have recorded a negative coronavirus test in the most recent checks.
Risk assessments of stadiums and training grounds are also required and teams will not be allowed to travel more than 90 minutes. It is understood Newcastle is going to be granted dispensation to travel further to seek out opponents.
Among other matters to be discussed on Thursday are scenarios in the event the season cannot be finished – with an unweighted points-per-game system favored. Also on the agenda will be the issue of neutral venues for a small number of high-risk games, the continued use of VAR, match-day safety protocols, broadcast requirements, amendments to the 25-man squads submitted in February, and whether five substitutes are to be allowed. Chelsea has also proposed that the number of substitutes on the bench is increased from seven to nine.
Source: The Guardian Image Credit: Getty Images/Premier League