What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

Liverpool are within reach of the Premier League title, with their manager Jurgen Klopp unconcerned by playing at neutral venues. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2020

What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

  • Restart to begin with 2 matches on June 17, to ensure every side played same number of games

LONDON: The Premier League's return is just two weeks away but there are plenty of details for the 20 clubs in the English top-flight to work out before competitive action resumes on June 17.

AFP Sport looks at what is on the agenda at the latest in a series of meetings between the clubs on Thursday.

There have been squabbles over how final league standings should be decided if the season cannot be completed but clubs need a contingency arrangement if a spike in coronavirus cases wrecks their plans.

Most of the teams in the bottom half of the table are reportedly pushing for relegation to be scrapped if the season is not completed on the field.

That still seems highly unlikely, with the English Football Association and English Football League both insisting on promotion and relegation throughout the pyramid.

A points-per-game formula is the most likely option and is part of the reason why the restart will begin with two matches on June 17, to ensure every side has played the same number of games.

Once the two outstanding games — Manchester City vs. Arsenal and Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United — have been played, all 20 sides will have nine games remaining.

No dates for other matches have yet been released, but fixtures are expected to continue from where they left off in March and be crammed into just five weeks ahead of the FA Cup final on August 1.

A long layoff, little time together in contact training and a gruelling schedule mean players' bodies will be pushed to the limits.

In an attempt to minimize injuries and fatigue, world governing body FIFA has allowed leagues to temporarily change their rules to allow five substitutes.

Chelsea have also reportedly proposed increasing the number of substitutes available from seven to nine.

However, critics have suggested those changes will simply play into the hands of the bigger clubs with deeper squads.

Premier League clubs appear to have won their battle to have games played in their own grounds rather than on neutral sites.

However, the UK's national lead for football policing confirmed last week that a "small number" of fixtures will take place at neutral venues.

That is likely to include any match that could see Liverpool crowned champions for the first time in 30 years, to try and avoid crowds gathering at Anfield.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is unconcerned by playing at neutral venues, with results from four rounds of Germany's Bundesliga showing no advantage for home sides in a closed-doors environment.

"We will not have the help from the crowd but no team will have that, so where is the advantage?" Klopp told the BBC.

"Whoever we play it is the same situation, which is why I'm not too worried about it."

The use of VAR could also be dispensed with for the rest of the season should the clubs wish to further cut the number of people required for games to go ahead.

However, the Premier League's CEO Richard Masters is keen for it to remain.

"VAR has its own social-distancing issues, but we think there is a way of completing the season with VAR," Masters told Sky Sports.


Local hero Mounir Lazzez delights fans with UFC debut win

Updated 24 min 45 sec ago

Local hero Mounir Lazzez delights fans with UFC debut win

  • Calvin Kattar defeats Dan Ige in All-American featherweight clash at UFC Fight Night 1 in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Four days after Fight Island launched in Abu Dhabi with UFC 251, MMA’s premier promotion returned to Yas Forum with Fight Night 1 and victories for local hero Mounir Lazzez over Abdul Razak Alhassan in the Welterweight division, and for American contender Calvin Kattar over Dan Ige in their headline Featherweight clash.

The Dubai-based Tunisian Lazzez — the only born, bred and trained Arab fighter on the card — was making his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut after getting his first call-up only in early June, and he kicked off the main card of the night by dominating the Ghanian Alhassan in a unanimous (30-27, 30-27, 28-27) victory.

Outside the cage, UFC boss Dana White was one of the first to offer his congratulations to the delighted winner.

“I love to be the underdog and to show my skill, and that’s exactly what happened tonight,” Lazzez said. “I came in as the underdog and I enjoyed the victory. When he put me in the first round against the cage, I said, ‘what, this is all that you got?’

“I still have a lot of weapons and just step by step I killed his will with the kicks, moving around, high kick, low kick, I showed my wrestling, my takedown defense,” he said.

In the climax of UFC Fight Night 1 the No 6-ranked American contender Kattar unanimously defeated fellow-countryman Ige (49-46, 49-46, 48-47). The winner then declared his readiness to take on Australian Featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski, who defeated Max Holloway at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning. 

“It’s a good opportunity, I was happy to go out with my team and finally give ourselves a main event win, and what better spot than out here in Abu Dhabi on Fight Island,” Kattar said. “Anywhere, anytime, that’s my mindset. We just follow where the opportunities are at, we had a big one here in Abu Dhabi, like I said, I’m just happy to go and capitalize. It’s a great check point for me and my team.

“I feel great, my lungs were great, my cardio felt good,” he said. “It was good to go and get five rounds because we’re eyeing that belt and we’re ready for five-round fights. We had to do that with a guy like Ige, you let him get momentum, it might be a long night for you. We figure we go out and get the momentum early and keep it as long as we could through the entirety of the fight. Everything was happening off the jab, so I was sticking to the jab, listening to my corners and we were able to go and get the job done.”

But for Middle Eastern audiences, all eyes were on Lazzez, and he did not disappoint his growing army of fans. The fighter, whose MMA professional record now stands at 10 wins and one loss, revealed the mental toughness that was needed to come in at short notice and produce a winning performance.

“I kept visualizing this over and over as just another fight, don’t put pressure on yourself and just go enjoy what you do,” said Lazzez. “I love this craft, I loved when I get clipped and I see the will inside the eye of my opponent, that mental game, I love that, I love that deep-water stuff. I’ve said it before, maybe you can be more technical and maybe you can be more powerful, but my will and my mental game, you can’t beat it.”

Before the event, Lazzez had revealed to Arab News his pride at being the only Arab-based fighter at UFC, as well as his gratitude that more events would be taking place on his “doorstep” in the UAE.

Lazzez also teased a potential fight with fellow welterweight Mike Perry. The Tunisian barely hid his disdain for the American, who recently made headlines by trading insults with UFC’s Darren Till on social media.

“I’m healthy, 100 percent,” Lazzez said. “I swear to God I’m ready to go in two weeks, but I’ll let my management speak to the UFC, and when that idiot is ready, I’m ready to go.”

In the penultimate fight of the night 33-year-old American Tim Elliott beat compatriot Ryan Benoit (29-28, 29-28,29-28) in a close Flyweight clash, and Jimmie Rivera defeated Cody Stamann with another unanimous (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) win in their Featherweight All-American clash.

In a Flyweight clash just after Lazzez’s victory, the Brazilian Taila Santos had overcame Molly McCann of England with a unanimous (30-27,30-27,30-27) points victory.

“I’m really happy with my first win in the UFC,” said Santos. “In the first fight, I couldn’t loosen up, but today I had a great fight, I was focused and I won the fight. I have my roots in Muay Thai, but we expected her to come and try to take the fight to the ground. I train with the best grapplers, so I was ready for that. I started training with my father, so I know he is very happy and very round right now.”

In the prelims, Middleweight Khamzat Chimaev (Sweden) defeated John Phillips (Wales) with a second-round submission, and the American Jared Gordon took a unanimous decision against Chris Fishgold of England in a Featherweight clash; Lerone Murphy, another Featherweight from England, beat the Brazilian Ricardo Ramos with technical knockout in round one.

In the battle of the Light Heavyweight debutants, Modestas Bukauskas of Lithuania, nicknamed “The Baltic Gladiator”, defeated Greek opponent Andrea “The Spartan” Michailidis via another TKO in the first round; Liana Jojua of Georgia made light work of the Romanian fighter Diana Belbita with a first-round stoppage in their Flyweight division bout; and Welsh Bantamweight Jack Shore maintained his perfect MMA career record with a second-round submission win over the American Aaron Phillips.

UFC Fight Night 2 will take place on July 19 at Yas Forum in Abu Dhabi, with the flyweight rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo of Brazil and the American Joseph Benavidez headlining the event. Fight Night 3 will take place on the morning of July 26.