The Premier League faces ruin as the lockdown threatens completion of the 2019/20 season. With the season suspended until the end of April at the earliest, sixty four matches have been postponed already. If the period of suspension extends a couple of weeks further, the final thirty games of the season will fail to be played. The Premier League is largely funded by the enormous media contracts with the likes of BT, Sky Sports and international rights holders. If the season is not completed by 12 July, these broadcasters could legally demand a rebate of up to £762 million.
The Premier League, EFL and Professional Footballers’ Association are desperate to avoid this financial catastrophe and several options are being considered. An early possibility was to suspend the League and keep the League table positions as they are, but this option has now been kicked into touch as it opens up the possibility of legal action from clubs in the relegation zone and clubs which would lose out on European football next season as a result. And, of course, it still leaves the Premier League vulnerable to that £762 million penalty.
The optimum solution currently under consideration is early resumption before the end of June to allow the remaining games to be played in a reasonable timescale prior to the start of the 2020/21 season in August. Plans are being made to play behind closed doors, with an ideal end of season date of 12 July.
England captain, Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur, says “I know the Premier League will do anything it can to finish the season…There needs to be a point where enough is enough. Probably the time limit for me is the end of June. Playing into July or August and pushing next season back, I don’t see too much benefit in that”. He may not have a choice about playing into July…money talks!
In the current state of limbo, the clubs know they will be unable to play for at least a month. After initial individual training programmes were put in place for players, some managers are now re-evaluating their plans and may invite the players to wind down their training – thereby reducing the risk of injury, and accepting dwindling motivation levels among some players – as if the clubs were in a period of close-season break. Frank Lampard, Manager of Chelsea, says “We keep looking at it, saying, ‘Well, how do we train? The last thing I want to do at the moment when the players are in this position, when we don’t know when the games are going to be, is to try and push and push and push the players for no reason.”
Assuming that the Premier League is back in action in the next couple of months, pressure on players will be particularly acute in the teams facing relegation. Norwich City are in a dreadful position with only 21 points on the board, and bookmaker Skybet offers odds of 1/20 that the Canaries will be relegated.
Aston Villa are also in the relegation zone with 25 points so far this season, and Skybet offers odds of 4/11 that Villa will slip into the EFL Championship. But there are a cluster of other teams whose managers and players are only too aware of their own vulnerability. Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham are all on 27 points and Brighton are only marginally ahead on 29.
At the other end of the League table, Liverpool currently lead by 25 points over second-placed Manchester City and bookmaker William Hill has already paid out on Liverpool winning the Premier League, the club’s first league win for 30 years. There is still an active betting market on which teams will make the final top four, critical for entry into the 2020/21 Champions League. Liverpool (with 82 points) and rivals Manchester City (with 57 points) are considered shoo-ins for a top four finish but there is a fight on for the other two places.
Leicester City are currently in third place with 53 points and Skybet offers odds of 1/9 that the Foxes will finish in the top four. Chelsea are lying in fourth, with 48 points, but Lampard’s team are not in the clear as Manchester United are on their tail with 45 points, with Wolves and Sheffield United only two points behind, on 43 points. This uncertainty over fourth place is reflected in the odds with Chelsea on 8/11, Manchester United on 11/8 and the other two teams trailing behind somewhat on 8/1 for Wolves and 11/1 for Sheffield United.
The 2019/20 season will be resumed if, and only if, it is deemed safe to do so and it is likely to be conducted behind closed doors. The Premier League is reliant upon the government giving them the green light to proceed. In turn, the government is reliant upon its team of scientific advisors. The Premier League’s paramount consideration should and must remain the health and safety of its players, managers and ancillary staff.