In a comprehensive vote of refusal, Premier League clubs have rejected some calls to play the remainder of the 2019/2020 EPL season behind closed doors at neutral grounds.
With the initial idea thought to have prompted the bottom six clubs, all of whom are still fighting relegation from the Premier League, to refuse on the grounds that their home stadiums would give them an advantage, it now emerges that 12 of the 20 clubs refused the idea.
Clubs such as Norwich City, Brighton and Hove Albion and Aston Villa are all battling to stay in the Premier League and while there was a general consensus that Premier League clubs might refuse to accept relegation with matches played behind closed doors, but as long as those games aren’t at neutral grounds, that no longer seems to be the case.
Talks during the Project Restart meeting on Monday suggest that the discussion of the return of the Premier League is centered around relegation, contracts being extended beyond June 30th – something that clubs seem keen on being able to do – and the current and projected health risks to players.
With the UK Government announcing that there will certainly be no top-level sport before June 1st, clubs have been keen to play out the season, but with the caveat that arranging nine neutral grounds to play them at isn’t fair. This is borne out by some analysis on the results viewed through the prism of being played at either that team’s home ground or away ones.
It is, of course, highly unlikely that fans will be able to attend football games until a vaccine is found for COVID-19, and with that looking to take anywhere up to a year to be fully tested, the start of the 2020/21 season is already under threat for a kick-off date.
Premier League CEO Richard Masters said that “Everybody would prefer to play home and away if at all possible,” in an article on the official Premier League website. “It’s clear to see that some clubs feel more strongly about that than others.” He revealed.
We don’t doubt it. A neutral venue gives an advantage to the better team, as is clearly shown by results in the F.A. Cup Final over the last 20 years. The favourite usually wins, even more often than the sportsbetting odds might suggest.
“There was a strong desire to discuss everything in the round and to agree a collective way forward,” said Masters. “A really strong collective will to complete the season remains.”
The last match to take place in the Premier League was the 4-0 win for Leicester City against their Midlands rivals Aston Villa, who did not enjoy the two sides final meeting of the four they have shared so far this season.
Contract extensions for players whose terms run out on June 30th is sensible planning, and may allow players such as Chelsea’s Willian or Tottenham Hotspur’s Jan Vertonghen to complete the current campaign for their clubs before moving on as a free transfer.
Loaned players have a slightly more complicated route to maintaining their current club status quo. All three parties (player, loan club and home club) will need to be in agreement for the player in question to remain in that new team’s shirt, meaning players such as Dean Henderson, who has performed so well for Sheffield United that they could well be a clear and present threat to owner club Manchester United’s route to the Champions League, may well be recalled by the Old Trafford club to prevent his new club making the top four (or five if Manchester City’s UEFA ban is upheld) instead.
With clubs set to return to team training this coming Monday, May 18th, but not play until around June 18th in theory, the players still have plenty of time to get their fitness up. That’s a good thing, because clubs haven’t yet organised how the Premier League is returning, while the Labour Shadow Sports Minister Alison McGovern has already said that she has a 20-point document questioning Project Restart that has made its way to Sports Minster Nigel Huddleston.
The police have stated that they want neutral grounds to be used, presumably to minimise the risk of home fans attending, such as the mass crowd that would inevitably congregate at Anfield should Liverpool seal their first title in 30 years.
The sporting world, as well as football fans and players connected with the Premier League, continue to hold their collective breath.