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Football back with six-week feast to finish the season

 

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Liverpool celebrate a goal this season

Liverpool celebrate a goal this season

PA

Liverpool celebrate a goal this season

The Premier League will return on Wednesday, June 17 with Manchester City against Arsenal and Aston Villa at home to Sheffield United the opening two fixtures.

The key games, one will kick off at 6.0pm and the other at 8.0pm, are the two "in hand" matches before the next round of fixtures starts with an 8.0pm Friday night game on June 19 - which could be West Ham United at home to Wolves - and a schedule staggered across the weekend of June 20 and 21.

All the behind-closed-doors games will be televised live, with the league season ending on the weekend of August 1-2, possibly split over two days, depending on what is at stake.

The restart date and proposed first matches were put to the 20 clubs at a lengthy shareholders' meeting yesterday. A number of key Project Restart issues were discussed and a vote on them has been set for June 4.

These issues included playing a number of high-profile matches at neutral venues - including those involving Liverpool when they could win the title, and some London derbies. Where social distancing is more difficult, such as at Burnley's Turf Moor, games could also be moved. Conversations will continue with the police to identify the games, however some clubs remain strongly opposed to neutral venues.

Final places may be settled on points per game if the season is not completed. This means that if no games are played and the campaign is curtailed before June 17, then Norwich City, Aston Villa and Bournemouth will be relegated.

All 92 games will be broadcast in the UK and Ireland and will be spread over existing rights-holders Sky Sports, BT Sport, Amazon Prime and the BBC, who will show four games live. Sky has announced that 25 of the 64 games it will show will be free-to-air. BT Sport has confirmed it will show 20 matches, which means Amazon Prime will broadcast the remaining four.

Fixtures could follow the original schedule, although kick-off times would be vastly different: Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 12.30pm, 3pm, 5.30pm and 8pm; Sundays at 12pm, 2pm, 4.30pm and 7pm; Mondays at 8pm; and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6pm and 8pm.

A rebate of £340 million due to the broadcasters, even if the fixtures are fulfilled, can be reduced to £170m if the season is completed by August 2, as is planned. The formula is complicated but it hinges on the bulk of matches being played before July 16 which, contractually, is the official end of the season.

The rebate will be spread across all 20 clubs, with the bigger ones set to pay more. It is understood none of the rebate will be payable next season. The clubs will receive their full broadcast revenues, with 50 percent of the rebate due in 2021-'22 and the rest in 2022-'23.

The Premier League stressed that June 17 was a provisional restart date, dependent on the effects of Covid-19, but it is two days earlier than expected and means the clubs will have around three weeks of full training to prepare.

Some managers had argued for longer but the league and clubs were keen not to delay the season any more, partly because of the further financial penalties that kick in.

Postponed

The opening two fixtures will take place exactly 100 days after the last Premier League game - Villa's 4-0 defeat by Leicester City on March 9 - before football was shut down four days later. It also makes sense to get those games out of the way so that all teams are on 29 matches played.

Both games are extremely important, given Villa's plight in the relegation zone and Sheffield United and Arsenal's hopes for European qualification, while a defeat for City would mean Liverpool were champions if, in their first fixture back, they beat Everton away - which is bound to be one of the games taking place at a neutral venue.

Liverpool's fixtures may need to be moved to neutral venues, and it is understood the club is relaxed about the idea. It will probably only play at a neutral ground until the title is won, although there is an acceptance that the comments of Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, who said the season should be ended because fans would congregate outside Anfield, did not help.

The issue of neutral venues is one that is exercising Tottenham, who have derbies at home to Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham United. The latter also oppose neutral venues.

The schedule means that the remaining FA Cup ties will also be played, probably in midweek, with the final proposed for August 1. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk