The Premier League is close to presenting a provisional fixture list for the remainder of the season to its clubs, with the unlucky ones facing a sequence of three games in seven days.
The league’s football operations team are working to finalise a schedule that features full match rounds on six long weekends, beginning with Friday 19 June to Monday 22 June, and three midweek slots, incorporating games on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The intention is for the midweek rounds to be 23-25 June, 7-9 July and 14-16 July.
There are two additional fixtures, which are the games in hand from when the season was stopped – Manchester City v Arsenal and Aston Villa v Sheffield United – which will be the first to be played, on Wednesday 17 June. The hope is to finish the league season on the weekend of 25-26 July, with the FA Cup final on Saturday 1 August.
It was agreed by the clubs that this was the preferred framework and, before a meeting on Thursday, the league’s operations team have sought to allocate fixtures to specific dates. It has been a stressful task, with various interested parties to align, including broadcasters and safety advisory groups.
The operations team have prioritised the league’s guidance that teams should not play twice in 48 hours. It remains to be seen whether they can spare every club this unwanted possibility. However, it is inevitable that, in a best-case scenario, some clubs will play three times in seven days. For example, after some Monday games, the clubs involved would have to play on Thursday and then at least one of them on Sunday, as both could not play again in the lone slot the following Monday.
The FA Cup quarter-finals are slated for the weekend of 27-28 June and the semi-finals for 18-19 July. The only two free midweek slots follow the Cup weekends, allowing for league games displaced by these ties to be staged. With the original running order of the league match rounds set to be respected, the games that stand to be bumped into midweek by the quarter-finals are Bournemouth v Newcastle, Arsenal v Norwich, Brighton v Manchester United, Everton v Leicester, Manchester City v Liverpool, Sheffield United v Tottenham and West Ham v Chelsea.
The provisional fixture list will be debated at Thursday’s meeting and there are sure to be complaints from those who feel that the spacing is against them. The hope is the schedule can be finessed and signed off, however.
Teams will ramp up preparations for the restart after the league gave approval for friendlies as long as strict guidelines around hygiene are followed, with instructions including players travelling in their own cars, possibly in their kit.
These games will enable clubs to build match fitness and will be played at stadiums or training grounds. Clubs, who were sent a guidance note by the league on Tuesday, will need to ensure they adhere to physical-distancing measures. Players involved will need to have recorded a negative coronavirus test in the most recent checks.
Risk assessments of stadiums and training grounds are also required and teams will not be allowed to travel more than 90 minutes. It is understood Newcastle will be granted dispensation to travel further to find opponents.
Chief among other matters to be discussed on Thursday are scenarios in the event the season cannot be finished – with an unweighted points-per-game system favoured. Also on the agenda will be the issue of neutral venues for a small number of high-risk games, the continued use of VAR, match-day safety protocols, broadcast requirements, amendments to the 25-man squads submitted in February and whether five substitutes are to be allowed. Chelsea have proposed that the number of substitutes on the bench be increased from seven to nine.