- European professional soccer has been in shutdown mode since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Germany’s Bundesliga resumed their season on May 16.
- The English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A have now set ‘restart dates’ as well.
There are finally signs of life in the world sporting scene. Pretty much everything has been in ‘deep freeze’ since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but now the situation is ‘thawing’ in the US, Europe and elsewhere. In the United States, NASCAR has returned to racing and the UFC has been promoting fight cards. They’ll soon be joined by boxing–Top Rank has been given permission by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to hold fight cards at the MGM Grand without fans in attendance. The UFC will host live events at its Las Vegas based Apex facility through June 27. Although the NBA and MLB remain in a state of flux the NHL is working out the logistics for a conference based playoff starting in July.
The situation is similar in Europe with the major professional soccer leagues starting to return to action. Germany’s Bundesliga resumed their season on May 16 and they’ll soon be joined by several other European power leagues. The English Premier League has announced a June 17 restart date with all 92 remaining fixtures to be broadcast live. One week before that, Spain’s La Liga will return to action on June 11. They’ll be joined by Italy’s Serie A on June 20. Although a formal announcement has yet to be made, the indication is that the Champions League will return with a truncated format in early August.
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
On Thursday, the shareholders of the English Premier League agreed on the provisional June 17 restart date ‘provided that all safety requirements are in place’. The plan still requires the approval of England’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and other government entities but based on the certainty in how the return plan is being reported that shouldn’t be an issue. For now, the Premier League teams have returned to contact training. The Football Association suspended the sport in England on March 13. The final EPL match prior to the shutdown took place on March 9 with Aston Villa facing Leicester.
“Premier League Shareholders today agreed to a new provisional restart date for the 2019/20 season of Wednesday 17 June, provided that all safety requirements are in place.”
“Aston Villa v Sheffield United and Manchester City v Arsenal – postponed due to the Carabao Cup Final – will now take place on 17 June, followed by a full match round beginning on Friday 19 June. Due to COVID-19, games will take place behind closed doors.”
“Premier League Shareholders also approved a proposal that would see all 92 remaining matches broadcast live in the UK by the League’s existing broadcast partners: Sky Sports, BT Sport, BBC Sport and Amazon Prime.”
“The planned kick-off times in the UK for live matches will also differ from the traditional times.”
Liverpool will restart the schedule with a very comfortable hold on first place in the Premiership. They’ve got a 27-1-1 record for 82 points on the season, a whopping 25 points more than second place Manchester City.
Spain’s La Liga will be back in action beginning on June 11 when Sevilla faces Betis in the Seville Derby. That will begin a downright insane run of action for Spanish soccer fans–from June 11 through July 12 there will be at least one La Liga match played each day. The season will conclude with all 20 teams playing their final two matches simultaneously on July 15 and 19. The league had actually received approval to return to play on June 8–last Saturday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made the announcement indicating that the country should be in ‘phase 3’ of their ‘national coronavirus de-escalation plan’. At this point, inter-province travel necessary for soccer competition will be once again permitted.
As has become the norm in the post pandemic sports world, all games will be played without fans. In addition, five substitutions per team will be allowed. Even with these modifications, the barrage of La Liga football consisting of 11 matchdays compressed into 43 calendar days will be a boon for fans and bettors alike.
Italy suffered severely from the Coronavirus pandemic but there is now a light at the end of the tunnel. On Thursday, Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora indicated that an agreement had been reached between the top level Serie A league and Italian government for a June 20 return. Initially, the hope was that play could resume on June 13 but that was rendered non-viable when the national lockdown was extended to June 14. Here’s how Spadafora announced the return in a conference call with the Italian soccer hierarchy and the media:
“Italy is starting up again and it’s only right that football can also get going. In the light of this we can say that the championship can start again on June 20.”
Spadafora did include a couple of caveats–the Serie A restart will require a significant amount of coronavirus testing and he emphasized that it must not ‘affect the general needs of all Italian citizens’. He also provided a disclaimer that a new surge of coronavirus cases nationally could require another suspension of play.
The Serie A table is significantly tighter than their English counterparts. Defending champions Juventus lead through 26 games but hold just a single point advantage over Lazio. Lazio president Claudio Lotito made the always smooth move of referring to himself in the third person as he hailed the return as a victory for all Italian football:
“This is not a victory for Lotito, but for all Italian football.”
“I am certain that with this restart, our football will be able to maintain the elevated quality standard that is recognised all over the world.”
“Serie A is one of the most important leagues in the sport.”
THE REST OF EUROPE
The Summer’s two big international competitions–Euro 2020 and Copa America–have been postponed until 2021. The Danish Superliga is back in action with the first game back featuring big video screens along the pitch with fans ‘virtually attending’ via Zoom video conference. France’s Ligue 1 has declared PSG champions and will not return this season. The Dutch Eredivisie has canceled their season and will not name a champion. Additionally, they won’t apply promotion and relegation to this season’s results. The Scottish Premier League announced the end to their 2019-2020 season last week. Celtic was declared champions and Hearts of Midlothian was relegated. Portugal’s top level Liga NOS is scheduled to resume play on June 4.