The Premier League returns to action later today with two ‘make-up’ games that will get all teams back to 29 matches played each before this weekend. With the spectre of the coronavirus rearing its head again among the players and staff, all of the 92 remaining fixtures of the 2019-20 season will be played behind closed-doors.
However, in addition to that, there are a number of other added restrictions, changes and modifications that are going to be enforced for the next month or so, to the extent that many fans are insisting that this will not be football as we know it. Unique situations call for unique measures, and that is the timeline we are living through right now the world over.
Despite initial rumours being floated around back in May that VAR would be scrapped for the duration of the season, that has now been dispelled. VAR will continue to operate, albeit somewhat erratically, but in more rooms at Stockley Park to allow for social distancing. Expect outrage to continue regarding players being offside by the hair on their knuckles and the like.
Everton have reason to feel like one of the most aggrieved teams in VAR’s debut season, looks like that trend will continue.
Substitutions & Squads
With summer here, to account for the higher temperatures and packed fixture schedule each team will now be allowed to name nine players on the bench instead of seven, with up to five substitutes instead of three used in a game. Teams with smaller squads have already raised complaints about this, but the Premier League has never really paid attention to most teams outside the ‘Sky Six’, so why would they start now?
The Toffees have already had a spate of injuries to a pretty thin squad. A number of Under-23 players have been training with the seniors at Finch Farm, expect to see some of them make full team debuts.
These have already been used in summer tournaments, and will be mandatory in all games now, with the referee stopping play for a one-minute break around the middle of each half of the game. With players coming back from a three-month layoff, this will also give them a chance to catch their breath. For increased safety, players will have designated water bottles that will be handed to them individually to reduce any chance of cross-contamination.
Face masks can be worn by players and coaches if they so choose, but will not be deemed mandatory. Social distancing will be observed in the technical area with everyone asked to sit farther apart. The fourth official will be wearing a face covering, as will any medics who go onto the pitch to treat an injured player.
A maximum of 300 people can be present at a stadium on a match day. All stadiums will be divided into three zones – Red, Amber and Green. The Red Zone is “the pitch, technical area, tunnel and dressing rooms”, with only those who have undergone Covid tests in the five days prior to a match allowed in, up to a maximum of 110 people including players. The Amber Zone “... covers all areas of the stadium interior with the exception of the Red Zone, including stands, concourses and pitch-side interview areas.” while the Green Zone is the area outside the stadium with access control points, parking lot and surrounding areas.
Everything that players and staff will come into contact with will be disinfected: goal posts, match-balls, dugouts, corner poles and flags, substitution boards and changing facilities. There will be no ball-boys and sanitized footballs will be dotted around the pitch placed on top of cones.
Dos & Don’ts
Spitting and nose-clearing are strictly banned, but there has been no mention what the repercussions of doing so will be. There will be no pre-match handshakes and contact of any sort during goal celebrations is also frowned upon. Additionally, “no mass confrontations” will be allowed, whether it’s between players or with match officials.
We’ll see how well that goes when Mike Dean makes a controversial call during this weekend’s Merseyside Derby.
Social distancing will be observed in the dressing rooms, with host clubs being asked to provide additional facilities where required. Teams will enter the playing area separately to ensure there is no congregation around the tunnel area.
Goodison Park’s age and constricted size will provide a challenge in this respect.
One of the biggest criticisms of closed-door events is that there will be no atmosphere. While stadiums will not be pumping in crowd noise, fans at home do have the option to activate EA Sports Atmospheric Audio, and clubs can broadcast live video feeds of 16 supporters on big screens during matches. Players will also be directed by broadcasters towards a celebration camera after scoring a goal. There will be cameras broadcasting without sound from the tunnels and audio from the coin toss will be played live. Post-match press conferences will be virtual.