While there may still be a number of legitimate concerns regarding Project Restart, the 2019/20 Premier League season continues to inch closer to resumption with a number of crucial meetings determining what the future may hold.
The latest update - issued in a statement on the Premier League's official website - is that all 20 clubs have unanimously voted in favour of returning to full contact training, with medical testing for COVID-19 to continue being carried out twice a week.
The Premier League moves one step closer to a return. pic.twitter.com/aQWJ038bLN— 90min (@90min_Football) May 27, 2020
Here's the latest on that, and all the other information doing the rounds regarding a possible resumption of action...
Premier League Approve Contact Training After Unanimous Agreement From Clubs
The Premier League has agreed a return to full contact training after all 20 clubs voted in favour of ramping things up.
A statement released on the Premier League website read: "Premier League Shareholders today voted unanimously to resume contact training, marking another step towards restarting the Premier League season, when safe to do so.
"Squads are now able to train as a group and engage in tackling while minimising any unnecessary close contact. The Premier League’s priority is the health and wellbeing of all participants.
"Strict medical protocols are in place to ensure the training ground is the safest environment possible and players and staff will continue to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.
"Stage Two of the Return to Training protocol has been agreed following consultation with clubs, players, managers, the PFA, LMA and the Government. Discussions are ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season, when conditions allow."
Premier League to Tell Clubs They 'Want' 2020/21 Campaign to Start Mid-September
Another key meeting this week will take place on Thursday, and the Daily Mail report that the Premier League will tell clubs at the shareholders' meeting that they 'want' the 2020/21 campaign to begin on the weekend of 12 and 13 September - irrespective of the conclusion to the current season.
The Premier League's strong desire to begin next season then could increase the chances of the 2019/20 campaign being curtailed, especially if a number of players test positive for Covid-19. As a result, on Thursday, clubs will be spoken to about using a points-per-game system to determine the final standings in the event of the worst-case scenario.
While a date to return to action hasn't yet been set, the Mail note that the Premier League are just as keen on agreeing a date to commence the following campaign. This is because there is a desire to ensure the revised timetable is similar to that of the rest of Europe.
England are due to play two UEFA Nations League matches during the September international break, and the Premier League are keen to begin the 2020/21 season immediately before this.
The schedule being considered involves the final game of this season (the FA Cup final) being played on 8 August. This, however, is ambitious and would place added pressure on both players and clubs.
Police Still Waiting on Further Information Regarding Project Restart
The return of the Premier League is indeed edging ever closer, but this makes the situation all the more alarming as far as police forces are concerned. This is because, as reported by the Daily Mail, they are still in the dark on how clubs plan on tackling high-profile matches which could see fans breaking social distancing rules.
Manchester City must still take on Liverpool, the north London derby is also one of the remaining fixtures, not to mention Liverpool's title-deciding game(s) or clashes between relegation-threatened teams.
Furthermore, the Mail add that the police still aren't aware as to whether neutral venues will be used, or even if clubs have crowd dispersal plans in place should fans try to gather around the stadium.
A large urban force has even claimed that they are aware of no other department that believes that returning to action from 19 June will deter fans from gathering around the stadium. A major hurdle that must be overcome before the 2019/20 campaign can resume is convincing the police that it is safe to return without draining their resources. As a result, this will be another talking point in the clubs' meeting on Thursday.
Elsewhere, while the Bundesliga has returned without many problems with regards to fans, a senior police source has explained that stadiums in Germany often have large open spaces surrounding them, whereas in England, a number of Premier League clubs' stadiums are located in residential areas.
Therefore, all 20 clubs in England's top flight have been asked by the Premier League to discuss this issue with their local authority Safety Advisory Group. The police have always preferred the idea of neutral venues as opposed to normal home and away matches.
Premier League Continuing to Consider Ways to Improve Atmosphere
The silence during matches in Germany since its return has led to criticism, with leagues seeking to find a solution to the lack of fan noise. In Spain, crowd noise from previous matches could be used to improve the atmosphere of games when football resumes in their top division.
The Express report that the Premier League are looking at 'more ways' of getting fans into stadiums digitally in order to improve the atmosphere.
The report notes that stadiums such as the London Stadium, the Emirates, the Etihad, Old Trafford and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium have LED 'ribbons' around the grounds and/or screens - which the Premier League could use to digitally show fans' faces.
Cardboard cut out fans, which have been used in Germany, are also being considered by some Premier League clubs, but other teams aren't quite as keen. Nonetheless, there is a desire to show the faces of fans to try to not only improve the atmosphere, but also 'engage' with fans.
The Premier League are considering 'several' ways of improving the viewing experience for fans. One system being considered is Zoom as it allows up to one thousand simultaneous connections, but there are other systems which could also be used.
Artificial Fan Noise - for Those Who Want it
? ??????? ???????: There's an imminent return to contact training and there are mixed thoughts...— 90min (@90min_Football) May 26, 2020
Some will, understandably, consider artificial fan noises to be 'too fake' and breaking away from the reality of the sport. However, it remains a problem the Premier League are seeking to rectify before play even gets back underway.
The Times report that broadcasters, mainly Sky Sports and BT, of Premier League games 'would' provide artificial crowd noise, but it would be up to fans to choose whether they would like the extra sound. It would be provided as a red-button option.
Talks are ongoing regarding proposals for enhanced access to interviews (for example, during matches) and extra camera positions. Premier League clubs would need to vote on these matters.