Two of Europe’s top soccer leagues announced plans Thursday to restart their seasons next month, with the English Premier League set to go June 17 after a 100-day cessation from the novel coronavirus pandemic and Serie A, the top league in Italy, poised to return to play June 20.
Premier League shareholders approved the move Thursday, with Manchester City vs. Arsenal and Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United first on the schedule. After those games, all teams will have played 29 matches, and the schedule of the remaining 90 games will resume on the weekend of June 20. The plan calls for the fixtures to be completed by Aug. 1, with the FA Cup final Aug. 8.
It is not clear where the games will be played. Although police favored neutral sites to prevent fans from crowding outside stadiums, the 20 Premier League clubs have opposed that idea.
“I would think that the vast, vast majority of people would respect what the football club tells them to do,” Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool area, told the Associated Press. “If it said, ‘Do not come to Anfield and congregate,’ then they wouldn’t do that.”
Liverpool, 25 points ahead of Manchester City with nine games left, is poised to claim its first EPL title in 30 years.
Testing will remain a key component as the EPL season resumes. Players and staff will continue to be tested twice a week, and anyone who tests positive will be required to self-isolate for seven days.
Clubs unanimously voted Wednesday to resume contact training after starting noncontact training last week. In this phase of “Project Restart,” players will “train as a group and engage in tackling while minimizing unnecessary close contact,” the league said.
Until Wednesday, players had been training in small groups while avoiding contact over the past week, and players, coaches and team staff members are being tested for the coronavirus twice a week. Of the 1,744 tests administered in the second round of testing, eight people had tested positive for the virus. On Wednesday, the league announced that four people from three clubs had tested positive out of 1,008 tests administered in the third round.
Premier League players will be ready, Gary Neville of Sky Sports told “The Football Show,” estimating that only “two or three weeks” of training would be needed.
“I don’t see players’ fitness being a concern. I don’t see them needing four or five weeks. Even when they’ve had six weeks off for preseason, within 10 days of going back in, they’d be playing games again in preseason,” he said.
“They wouldn’t be 100% fit, but these are uncharted times. I wouldn’t expect the players to be absolutely perfect. I feel two to three weeks is about right to get them back playing again. We’re constantly told throughout the season that players are overworked, play too many matches. What we can’t have is a situation where the players have had an eight-week break to then say they need six weeks of training to get back to fitness. That doesn’t feel right.”
Serie A has been suspended since March 9 as Italy became one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus. The league had initially hoped the season could resume a week earlier. Sport Minister Vincenzo Spadafora announced the league’s plan for returning to play Thursday.
“Now Italy is starting again and it is right that soccer starts again too,” Spadafora said, according to The Associated Press. “If the curve changes and the league has to be stopped again, the Italian soccer federation has assured me that there exists a plan B - playoffs - and also a plan C - leaving the standings as they are.”
Spadafora said there was a possibility that the Coppa Italia semifinals and final could be played on June 13 and June 17. The first legs of the semifinals were played before the nationwide lockdown began.
Juventus sits atop the league table with 63 points, narrowly ahead of second-place Lazio (62). Both clubs have 12 matches left to play. Inter Milan is third with 54 points but has 13 games remaining.
If a player or staff member tests positive for the coronavirus, the entire group must quarantine for 14 days. In order for Serie A to restart, the number of tests needed across the league “should not affect the general needs of all Italian citizens,” Spadafora said, according to ESPN.
In Germany, games have resumed in empty stadiums, and Spain has been given government approval to resume play in early June.