Premier League clubs have been told games will still go ahead once the season restarts even if they are down to just 15 fit players, it has emerged.
West Ham vice-chair Karen Brady has revealed the subject of depleted squads was discussed in Thursday’s conference call between clubs after Bundesliga teams reported a spike in strains and short-term muscle injuries following the resumption of football in Germany.
Apart from the likelihood of more injuries after a three-month lay-off, clubs are aware that anyone testing positive for coronavirus would have to be withdrawn and isolated, so it is not inconceivable that 25-man squad lists could quickly lose half a dozen or more players.
“There are obvious concerns about what happens if you cannot field your usual or strongest starting XI,” Brady said. “It seems as long as you have 15 fit players including a goalkeeper from your main squad or your under-21s you will be deemed to have a team fit enough to fulfil the fixture.”
With five substitutes to be allowed once the Premier League resumes, 15 fit players would not even allow a full bench, though despite Brady’s fears most clubs appear ready to at least begin Project Restart with a full complement of motivated players. Burnley and Sheffield United are among clubs who have signalled they are impatient for the season to restart, while Bournemouth, in the bottom three due to an inferior goal difference to Watford and West Ham, have reported that David Brooks is back in training after missing the season so far with an ankle injury picked up in a friendly last summer.
The Premier League season is scheduled to restart with two matches on 17 June, followed by a full programme three days later. Full-contact training is already under way in this country, and has just been given the go-ahead in Spain, though the German experience underlines the difficulties of trying to compress a normal pre-season into just a couple of weeks. In terms of quality the first round of games looked
somewhat stilted and unfamiliar, as José Mourinho has pointed out, arguing that it has taken each team two or three games to reach a recognisable standard. “You could feel a difference in quality and intensity between the first match and the third match,” the Tottenham manager said. “When you saw Bayern against Dortmund in the third game you felt immediately: ‘Wow, that’s a proper match.’”
In that very game, however, Dortmund’s Mo Dahoud was ruled out for the rest of the season while the in-form Erling Braut Haaland had to retire early with a knee injury that will keep him sidelined for a short time. The injury count will probably start to decrease once more players regain full match fitness and some sort of normality returns, but experts always predicted a higher rate of injury in the first couple of weeks of the restart, and Germany bore that out with a threefold increase over the last fortnight.