The 20-team league suspended play March 13 with 92 matches yet to be played, and the league still has a number of issues to work out between its teams before it can return. One of the areas of contention is where the games will be played: Some have suggested neutral-site venues so that supporters do not show up outside stadiums, but others — mainly teams at the bottom of the standings that are fighting to remain in the financially lucrative first division — have criticized the idea as unfair.
“If we start and finish a whole season under these conditions and at neutral venues when everybody knows the rules when we start, not created in a time of crisis, then that is clearly fair,” Scott Duxbury, chairman and chief executive of 17th-place Watford, wrote in the London Times on Sunday. “To be asked to finish a quarter of the season under new rules and conditions is an entirely different proposition. How can the long-term future of clubs be determined under these fundamentally changed conditions? How is there any semblance of fairness? To wave aside all the fears and concerns is too simplistic. Surely all 20 clubs must agree the fairest way forward to complete the season?”
Said Paul Barber, chief executive of 15th-place Brighton: “We’ve got some of the best stadiums in the world, some of the best-run football clubs in the world, one of the best leagues in the world with great administrators. Why can’t we make it happen in our country and finish the season the way it started? In terms of the operational, commercial, health and safety [challenges], I think we can manage ourselves.”
The bottom three teams in the Premier League each season are relegated to the second-tier Championship, and the financial impact is harsh. In 2018, Deloitte Sports Business Group estimated that relegated teams see revenue drop by more than $60 million. Brighton is only two points clear of the relegation zone, while Watford and 18th-place Bournemouth are tied in standings points, with the former earning the tiebreaker because of a better goal differential.
During a conference call Monday, clubs also acknowledged the possibility of cutting short the season.
“It was the first time we discussed curtailment,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s still our aim to finish the season, but it’s important to discuss all the options with our clubs.”
Premier League players have been allowed to work out at team facilities over the past few weeks. On Saturday, Brighton announced a third player had tested positive for the coronavirus and was self-isolating.
UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, has established a May 25 deadline for its leagues to reveal their return plans. Last week, the German government gave the Bundesliga the go-ahead to return, and the first games will be played this weekend. On Monday, the president of Spain’s La Liga announced games hopefully will resume June 12, with the goal of finishing the season by the end of July. Leagues in France, the Netherlands and Belgium have canceled the rest of their seasons.
Britain has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, with more deaths than any other European nation and the second most globally behind the United States. But Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson — himself a covid-19 survivor — announced what he dubbed the “first careful steps” to soften restrictions.
When play was halted, Liverpool held a commanding 25-point lead at the top of the standings and was on the verge of securing its first English league title since 1990.