Friendlies arranged for players' fitness

Clubs are pulling out all the stops to help their players regain match fitness after a three-month hiatus.
Clubs are pulling out all the stops to help their players regain match fitness after a three-month hiatus.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

EPL teams seek to get match ready; one positive result at Spurs in latest virus tests

LONDON • Premier League clubs have been given the green light to take part in friendlies with strict protocols in place as they prepare for the restart of England's top-flight season on June 17, British media reported on Tuesday.

Venues must not be more than 90 minutes away and players will need to travel in their own cars and arrive in full kit, according to Sky Sports.

The Premier League will, however, consider allowing the likes of Newcastle, the closest club to the Scottish border, and Norwich, in the east of England, to travel further as they may be based too far from other teams.

Players involved in the friendlies have to return a negative test for Covid-19 before being allowed to participate.

The league revealed yesterday that one person tested positive for the coronavirus in the latest round of testing.

Tottenham Hotspur confirmed in a later statement that they received the one positive test.

In the three previous rounds of testing since players resumed training last month, there were 12 positives.

"The individual who tested positive will now self-isolate for a period of seven days," the league said in a statement.

While friendlies are set to be officiated by members of the clubs' coaching staff, the Professional Game Match Officials Board, which oversees referees in the country, is said to be keen for their officials to take charge as it wants them to get up to speed ahead of the restart.

The Premier League has been suspended since March, but clubs have since returned to group training, with the British government giving elite sport permission to return since Monday.

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers confirmed the Foxes will be staging practice games at the King Power Stadium to help their players gain fitness.

Other Premier League clubs are understood to have contacted Championship opponents, with second-tier teams also aiming to ramp up their readiness ahead of the division's restart on June 20.

Liverpool and West Ham have already arranged for private warm-up games at their stadiums.

But Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud has admitted a three-week "pre-season" after three months of inaction was not nearly enough, telling "almost all my teammates got blisters after resuming training".

Newcastle club doctor Paul Catterson is also expecting players to pick up more injuries than usual, not only due to the rather immediate return of play but because of the ban on the usage of shared club facilities like ice baths.

"We are expecting more injuries at this time," he told the BBC.

"The players have been running on treadmills and working indoors for eight weeks so that transition is a different stimulus for the body."


Project Restart: Issues to sort out

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 teams in the bottom half are reportedly pushing for relegation to be scrapped if the season is not ended on the field.

That, however, seems highly unlikely, with the English Football Association and the Football League both insisting on promotion and relegation throughout the pyramid.

A points-per-game formula is the most likely option and is one of the reasons the restart will begin with two matches on June 17, to ensure every team have played the same number of games.


Once the two outstanding games – Manchester City v Arsenal and Aston Villa v Sheffield United – are played, all 20 sides will have nine games remaining.

No dates for other matches have yet been released, but games 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 Aug 1.


A long layoff, little time together in contact training and a gruelling schedule mean players’ bodies will be pushed to the limit.

In an attempt to minimise injuries and fatigue, Fifa has allowed the use of five substitutes, up from the usual three.


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, Mark Roberts, wants a “small number” of fixtures to take place at neutral venues, including any title-decider for Liverpool, who are two wins shy of their first top flight title in 30 years.


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.

But Premier League chief executive officer Richard Masters is keen for it to remain in place, telling Sky Sports that despite the social distancing issues – up to 30 people are usually seated in a room at the VAR hub at Stockley Park in London – “there is a way of completing the season with VAR”.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2020, with the headline 'Friendlies arranged for players' fitness'. Print Edition | Subscribe