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.

Relegation-battle boost as Al-Muwallad penalty ensures narrow win for nervous Al-Ittihad

Updated 15 August 2020

Relegation-battle boost as Al-Muwallad penalty ensures narrow win for nervous Al-Ittihad

DUBAI: After a miserable resumption of the Saudi Professional League (SPL) season for Al-Ittihad, who lost two matches in the space of a week, they finally gave their fans something to smile about on Friday with a 1-0 home win over Al-Ettifaq at King Abdullah Sports City.

However, it was another uncomfortable night for the struggling giants and the result was partially overshadowed by an unseemly scuffle between the teams’ players and coaching staffs.

Al-Ittihad started the day 13th in the league, just one point and one place above Al-Fateh, who occupied the first of the three relegation spots. With six games left to play, the message coming out of the club was that they are being treated like six cup finals — six crucial matches in the battle to avoid the ignominy of dropping out of the top flight or facing a play-off to ensure survival.

By the time the under-pressure players took to the field they knew that Al-Fateh had overtaken them in the race for survival, thanks to a 2-1 win over Abha Club. As a result, Al-Ittihad kicked off their 25th match of the season in the relegation zone.

It was perhaps not surprising then that in a first half littered with errors, a nervous Al-Ittihad lacked cohesion and confidence, and coach Fabio Carille’s decision to start Brazilian playmaker Romarinho nominally on the left side of midfield seemed to unbalance the team. Still, despite some promising attacks, especially down the wings, Al-Ettifaq were unable to take advantage of their opponents’ uncertainty.

Five minutes into the second half, Al-Ittihad got the break they so desperately needed when Al-Ettifaq midfielder Ibrahim Mahnashi clipped Saud Abdulhamid in the penalty area, and the referee correctly awarded a penalty after consulting with the video assistant referee. Saudi international Fahad Al-Muwallad made no mistake from the spot, firmly placing the ball to the right of goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi.

The Al-Ittihad giants struggled throughout the game, but finally managed to give their fans reason to smile with a 1-0 win. (SPA)



Al-Ittihad failed to capitalize on their advantage but, despite having to endure a few close calls as the referee added six extra minutes, they managed to hold out to secure a narrow 1-0 win and three priceless points.

At the final whistle, Al-Ittihad’s exhausted players sank to their knees, a reaction more often seen at the end of grueling cup final than a more routine league game. The victory allowed them to leapfrog both Al-Fateh and Al-Hazem and claim 12th place.

“This was an important win for us; mentally we needed this win,” said match-winner Al-Muwallad. “But I have to say that despite the win we didn’t perform to our best. We fell short in certain parts but, thankfully, we got the most important thing, which is the three points. I hope this will help our morale ahead of the match against Al-Faisaly (on Wednesday).”

The Saudi international admitted he is concerned about the number of mistakes his team continue to make, even after taking the lead in Friday’s game.

“If you watch the last two matches you’d see that it was individual mistakes that led to two defeats,” he said. “Today we managed to fix some of those problems but not all of them.

“We still made mistakes and, as I said, we didn’t play to the level that Al-Ittihad fans expect from us, despite the presence of a very good group of players. This win should make us more relaxed in the coming games.

“After the goal we retreated somewhat. We tried to finish the game with our counterattacks but couldn’t. Thankfully, we still got the win. We will take it one match at a time — now we should forget this match and start thinking about the match against Al-Faisaly.”

The Al-Ittihad giants struggled throughout the game, but finally managed to give their fans reason to smile with a 1-0 win. (SPA)

Abdul Aziz Al-Bishi, who was making his first appearance for Al-Ittihad since the SPL resumed after it was suspended for more than four months because of the coronavirus crisis, said the players found it hard to take advantage of the extra space that opened up after Al-Muwallad’s goal.

“The weather didn’t help, and coming back from the break maybe some of the players found it hard out there,” he said. “But this should help us in the coming matches and we can add more points to climb up the league table.”

Al-Ettifaq defender Saleh Al-Qumaizi was disappointed that his team’s performance did not earn at least a point.

“I think we played a big match,” he said. “We controlled the majority of the play and we gave everything we had. We made some mistakes and they scored from one of them.

“We have many key players on the left, right and down the middle. I think today we concentrated mostly on the left and a little on the right channels but it wasn’t to be.”

In the day’s other matches, Al-Fayha and Al-Shabab played out a 1-1 draw at Al-Majma’ah Sports City, while two goals in the last 13 minutes helped Al-Raed beat relegation-threatened Al-Hazem 3-1 to remain in fifth place.