The English Premier League has agreed to a provisional return on June 17 without fans in attendance.
It ends a three-month break to England’s top-flight football competition because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United and Manchester City vs. Arsenal will be the first games to take place, featuring the four teams that have played one less game than the other 16 clubs, the Premier League announced in a statement on Thursday.
A full round of matches is scheduled for the weekend of June 19-21. There are 92 remaining fixtures in the 2019-2020 season.
For former Manchester United, Everton and England defender Phil Neville, while he is excited for the return of top-flight football in England, if he was still a player, he would be “nervous.”
“I think the first question you would probably ask is: “‘Why are we going back? Is it going to be safe?’” Neville told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies in an Instagram Live chat.
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“We must pay respects to the players because they’re the ones that are going to be putting themselves out there. Some of them might have been affected. Some of them might have had family members or friends affected by this incredible pandemic which has come from nowhere.
“I think there’s had to be a lot of assurances. I think no fans in the stadium is a big thing for players. You look at the atmosphere in games that you’ve played in or that you’ve watched, a lot of those great games were made by the fans in the stadium so I think we’ve got to accept that football is going to be a little bit more different.
“We’ve got to adapt to that but ultimately, the player safety is paramount for me. If it’s safe for a player and they do the right tests and they’ve got the right procedures in place, then if the government gives the go ahead and the right medical certificates are signed, then I think it’s the right thing.”
The Premier League suspended its season back on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Similarly to football in Germany, which returned a few weeks ago, fans will be unable to attend Premier League matches.
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League shareholders have approved a proposal that would see all remaining matches broadcast live in the UK.
Liverpool is two wins from claiming a historic title, its first in 30 years, and is 25 points ahead of second-placed Manchester City.
Even as someone who grew up a Manchester United fan and went on to make 378 appearance for the club, Neville admits that United’s bitter rivals Liverpool “deserve” to win the Premier League.
“I think if it was really tight, I think there would be a bit of an argument. But I think because they are so far ahead and because they’ve been so far the best team, I think from day one when the football was canceled, it was unanimous that Liverpool deserved to win the title.
“They deserve it. They’ve got the best manger and the best players this season. They’ve been the best team.”
With Manchester City facing a two-year ban from European football, although its appeal will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport next month, Leicester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United are all fighting for spots in next season’s Champions League.
At the bottom of the table, Norwich is six points from avoiding relegation. Aston Villa sits just four points above the Norfolk team while Bournemouth makes up the bottom three, although Watford and West Ham are sat on the same number of points.
The provisional restart date for the competition will only go ahead “provided that all safety requirements are in place,” the Premier League said.
”Sadly, matches will have to take place without fans in stadiums, so we are pleased to have come up with a positive solution for supporters to be able to watch all the remaining 92 matches,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said.
“The Premier League and our clubs are proud to have incredibly passionate and loyal supporters. It is important to ensure as many people as possible can watch the matches at home.”
Kick-off times in the UK for live matches will also differ from the traditional times.
The ability to see players back playing will be “great,” but for Neville – the head coach of the England women’s team – the television companies will also benefit.
“You imagine the viewing figures that each game will get, even the games that you probably wouldn’t normally see, now all of a sudden, you would tune in to see,” said the 43-year-old.
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“I think that would make so many people happy. I think it’s the right decision. Having seen what they’ve done in Germany in terms of the seamless way they’ve got back into playing football albeit without fans, I think if the next step was the Premier League to do that,
“I’ve got to say, I hope there’s football on every night of the week, three or four times on a Saturday and a Sunday because I think it’s something that makes a lot of people happy.”