As North Americans were just beginning their work days, whether back in their places of business or still doing the telecommuting thing, Premier League players in England returned to soccer duty Tuesday for the first time since early March.
The Premier League has not yet established a playing schedule for its return, but teams were permitted to resume small-group training Tuesday afternoon in preparation for an expected June resumption of their season.
The Premier League has been suspended, along with most major world sports leagues, since the second weekend in March. When interrupted, Liverpool was 25 points ahead of second-place Manchester City and two victories away from clinching its first-ever Premier League title. LFC won many titles before the Premier League was formed in 1992, but only has finished as high as second since, most recently in 2014 and 2009.
There were as many as six teams fighting against relegation, however, and six fighting for the three remaining positions in the 2021-22 Champions League.
Germany, where the Bundesliga suspended competition a few days after England and most others in the world back in March, returned with a full slate of games over the weekend.
“The Germans are a couple of steps ahead of us, obviously,” Premier League CEO Richard Masters told the media Monday. “We can learn from them, and watch them, and take confidence from their success."
When will the Premier League resume?
There has been no exact date established for the resumption of the 2019-2020 season, but teams were allowed to return to small-group training Tuesday. The season is expected to resume sometime in June.
Premier League 2020 resumption timeline
This is a timeline of events that have occurred as England has attempted to resume the Premier League campaign:
May 18: Premier League clubs voted unanimously to allow teams to return to training, ideally in small groups with social distancing guidelines maintained.
"Step One of the Return to Training Protocol enables squads to train while maintaining social distancing. Contact training is not yet permitted,” the Premier League said in a statement.
"This first stage has been agreed in consultation with players, managers, Premier League club doctors, independent experts and the government. Strict medical protocols of the highest standard will ensure everyone returns to training in the safest environment possible.”
May 11: The UK government gives approval to the Premier League returning as early as June 1. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the decision, with the directive that games be conducted in closed stadiums.
Clubs opposed to playing at neutral grounds reportedly would be getting their way, if approved by government officials. One of the primary concerns for league officials was the potential for fans to congregate outside stadiums while the games were happening, which happened in France outside a Champions League game in March between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund.
But more than half the clubs objected to the neutral-site concept.
“All clubs would prefer to play at home,” Masters said.
May 9: Watford chair and chief executive Scott Duxbury writes an article for The Times of London in which he criticized the Project Restart play to complete the season at neutral sites rather than home grounds.
Although it is clearly established there will be no fans allowed in any return, Duxbury’s op/ed piece cites the advantage Watford gained by playing at home in its stunning upset of champion-in-waiting Liverpool — as if the crowd advantage in that 3-0 victory was of minor consequence.
Duxbury wrote that at least six clubs were “concerned about the clear downside and the devastating effects of playing in this kind of distorted, nine-game mini-league.”
May 1: The clubs met for four hours to discuss conditions for a possible return. “Project Restart” is not a universally popular proposition; star Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero tells a television program in Spain “The majority of players are scared because they have family, they have children, they have babies.”
The plan formulated to return to action includes the remaining games being played at select neutral sites, which were not divulged, and for the games to resume with no spectators in the stands.
“The League and clubs are considering the first tentative moves forward and will only return to training and playing with Government guidance, under expert medical advice and after consultation with players and managers,” the Premier League’s statement said.
April 17: As a letter from UEFA arrives at national federations urging anyone planning a return to competition complete their seasons by July 31, with an eye toward finishing the Champions League and Europa League, the Premier League holds a two-hour conference call on which teams discuss a possible four-week training period beginning in mid-May with a return to competition in mid-June. A prohibition against use of training sites was set to remain in place until at least May. 7.
April 3: The league announced its initial hope of returning by April 30 had been overly ambitious. The return to action would be delayed indefinitely.
March 19: ESPN reports the Premier League will not begin the 2020-21 season until it completes the current season. This decision was reached after the 20 clubs had participated in a video conference that formally determined to continue the suspension of the league from the original date of April 3 until April 30.
The FA board also determined the established June 1 deadline for the completion of league competition would be eliminated, with no set date to replace it.
March 13: Following a joint meeting of team shareholders, the Premier League makes the decision along with the Football League, the Women’s Super League and the FA to suspend all professional football competition.
“Despite the challenges, is the Premier League’s aim to reschedule the displaced fixtures … when it is safe to do so,” the league’s statement said.
March 12: With the Premier League still planning to move ahead with games scheduled for the coming weekend as major North American sports competitions are suspended or canceled — first the NBA, and later the NHL, MLS, Major League Baseball and the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball championships — Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tests positive for the coronavirus.
Chelsea announces hours later that teenaged winger Callum Hudson-Odoi also has tested positive, leading the club to decide on a partial closing of its training facility.