Premier League clubs vote to resume contact training

Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder Willian, left, attends a training session at Chelsea’s Cobham training facility in this Feb. 24 file photo. (AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2020

Premier League clubs vote to resume contact training

  • Discussions ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season, when condition allows

LONDON: Premier League clubs voted unanimously on Wednesday to resume contact training as the English top-flight took a significant step towards a possible restart in June.

The Premier League was put on hold in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, with Liverpool agonizingly close to the title.

Clubs returned to training in small and socially distanced groups last week but they have now moved to stage two of the “return to training protocol.” 

“Premier League shareholders today voted unanimously to resume contact training, marking another step towards restarting the Premier League season, when safe to do so,” the league said in a statement.

“Squads are now able to train as a group and engage in tackling while minimizing any unnecessary close contact.”

It added: “Discussions are ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season, when conditions allow.”

The small number of positive tests from the first two rounds of testing at Premier League clubs has raised hopes of a return next month.

Eight cases of coronavirus among players and staff have been detected from 1,744 tests in the Premier League.

In the second-tier Championship, just two positive tests were registered from 1,014 tests.

A targeted return date of June 12 was described by Premier League chief executive Richard Masters last week as a “staging post.” 

Players and coaches have argued they will need until at least the end of June to reduce the risk of injuries after such a long layoff.

Some players have voiced fears over their safety and that of their families due to the virus.

Watford captain Troy Deeney has not returned to training after three positive cases were registered by the Hornets over concerns he could spread the virus to his five-month-old son.

French World Cup winner N’Golo Kante has also been given permission by Chelsea to train at home.

Germany’s Bundesliga has already managed to complete two rounds of fixtures since returning behind closed doors and there has been little player opposition to La Liga’s plans to return in Spain from June 11.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said playing at an empty Anfield and winning the Premier League title with no fans present would be “pretty strange.” 

Liverpool were 25 points clear of 2019 champions Manchester City when the league was shut down, on the verge of being crowned English champions for the first time in 30 years.

“Of course it would feel different because if you win any trophy and receive it without any fans there, it would be pretty strange,” he told the BBC.

“We still have work to do and we still need to perform at a high level right the way until the season finishes because we want to finish as strongly as we can to make sure it is a full season,” he added.


Leeds face test of nerve as promotion looms

Updated 07 July 2020

Leeds face test of nerve as promotion looms

  • Marcelo Bielsa’s side look odds-on to secure the place among English football’s elite

LONDON: After 16 years in the wilderness, Leeds United are on the brink of an eagerly awaited return to the Premier League — as long as they can hold their nerve with the finish line in sight.

A 3-1 win at Blackburn on Saturday moved Leeds a step closer to the promised land from the long purgatory of the lower leagues.

Marcelo Bielsa's side sit one point clear at the top of the Championship heading into their last five matches.

With third-placed Brentford six points behind, Leeds look odds-on to secure the place among English football's elite that their legion of fanatical fans used to regard as their birthright.

But Leeds were in a similar position last season and squandered a chance for automatic promotion before imploding in the playoffs.

When Leeds beat Sheffield Wednesday on April 13, 2019, a capacity crowd at Elland Road serenaded their jubilant team as if promotion had been secured.

Just 15 days later, after losses to Wigan and Brentford and a mad-cap draw against Villa — in which Bielsa told his team to deliberately let their opponents score following United's controversial opener — ended the Leeds top two challenge.

Leeds lost their nerve and Derby took full advantage in the playoff semifinal second leg, winning 4-2 to leave the Elland Road faithful in tears.

From the ashes of that bitter evening, Bielsa has dragged Leeds back into promotion contention.

But, with last season's collapse in mind, Leeds fans might have been alarmed to hear Bielsa admit he is feeling the strain of the run-in.

"Yes," Bielsa said when asked if he felt anxious during the Blackburn game.

"Every match in this period is very important. If we get distracted we will pay for that so we need to keep focused in every match."

With English football being played behind closed doors for the rest of the season amid the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps Leeds will benefit from playing in silence, rather than in front of their anxious fans.

"I'd love to be there more than anything. But it's such a nervous time and I do think that could impact the players," Leeds season-ticket holder Simon Sanders told AFP.

"Nothing feels quite right with this virus and the way the world has changed but if we make it the party will go on for weeks."

Three of Leeds' remaining games will be played in the empty stands of Elland Road against struggling trio Stoke, Barnsley and Charlton.

Win those games and taken a point from one of their two away games at Swansea and Derby and Leeds will be assured of promotion.

It would be a moment to savor after such a long period in the shadows.

Champions of England in 1969 and 1974 under Don Revie, then in 1992 when Howard Wilkinson called the shots, Leeds have a rich history.

But since being relegated from the top tier in 2004, Leeds have stumbled from financial disaster off the pitch to despair on it.

Describing the club's ascent to the heady heights of the Champions League in the early 2000s, former chairman Peter Ridsdale claimed he had "lived the dream."

Their subsequent fall was a never-ending nightmare that hit its lowest ebb in 2007 when Leeds went into administration and were relegated to the third tier for the first time.

No wonder the much-travelled Bielsa is so beloved after just two years in charge.

The former Argentina, Lazio, Marseille and Bilbao boss has turned the tide at a tortured club infamously labelled the 'Damned United' by novelist David Peace and forever remembered as 'Dirty Leeds' in the minds of fans who saw their no-holds-barred style in the Revie era.

Now Leeds' Italian owner Andrea Radrizzani is embracing that checkered past in a bid to secure promotion at last.

"For Leeds, we have a history of being 'Dirty Leeds' and we actually channel that," Radrizzani told FIFA's Professional Football Journal.

"All of our boys are willing to fight for the shirt every week and having that character is important to being a Leeds player.

"I want to help Leeds return to the level our history and fans deserve."