premier League

Premier League season ends, here is a look at Project Restart

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The Premier League is finally over after 11 long months. It ended with joy for some clubs, especially for Liverpool football club that won it for the first time in 30 years and for Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea that finished in the top-4. It also ended with sadness, especially for the three clubs that were relegated, Watford, Bournemouth and Norwich City.

Before it all came to this, below are some of the critical decisions that were taken to bring the 2019-2020 Premier League season to a logical end against all odds.

13 March: 2019-2020 Premier League Season Suspended

13 March 2019-2020 Premier League Season Suspended

The coronavirus pandemic which started in Wuhan, China, late 2019, hit the world from February and spread wider in early March to the extend that every social aspect of human existence was practically affected.

Football was not left out as various domestic leagues across the world began to call off their leagues and on March 13, the English FA in conjunction with all the football stakeholders in England, including the Premier League agreed to suspend football in the country until at least April 4.

According to a statement from the English FA then, the decision which was kept under constant review was taken due to the increasing numbers of clubs that were taking steps to isolate their players and staff because of the COVID-19 virus.

As at the point of suspending football in England, the Premier League clubs had played 29 matches except for Manchester City, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Sheffield United which had a game in hand. Hence, City, Arsenal, Villa and Sheffield went into the break with 10 games left to end the 2019-2020 season while other 16 clubs had 9 matches each to complete the season.

On 19 March, an emergency meeting involving the Premier League, The Football Association (FA), the English Football League and the FA Women’s Super League, met for the second time in the month to extend the suspension of football to at least 30 April 2020. Due to this agreement, the English FA decided to extend the 2019-2020 season indefinitely. The season was earlier scheduled to end on June 1 prior to the outbreak of the pandemic.

Still, April 30th didn’t work as plan and other series of meetings were held to review the state of things and the stakeholders reacted based on the reality of the situation then.

May 28: Restart Date of June 17 agreed

Chelsea football club undertaking training in small groups.
Chelsea football club undertaking training in small groups.

After a series of video conferences and back and forth involving the Premier League, the clubs, the English FA and the footballers, on May 28, 2020, they finally agreed on what was tagged Project Restart.

Before May 28, speculations had started flying that the league would resume early or mid-June but no one was able to confirm or agree on a specific date. The Premier League cited the fact that the league had to resume in order to make some money for the clubs that were already suffering financially due to the pandemic. While some interests among their ranks felt the best thing was to cancel the league outrightly, citing that it would be a huge risk to play football amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic ravaging the country.

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During this period, clubs were already embracing the furlong policy of the government of the United Kingdom and they were issuing out pay-cuts to their playing and non-playing staff. However, some top clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City assured their staff and players that their pay would not be touched.

While Premier League stakeholders were deliberating on the modalities that will work for the project restart, some relegation-threatened teams felt the clubs should vote against the relegation of clubs. That was kicked against in subsequent meetings of the stakeholders prior to May 28.

More so, there was an unending argument that the remaining 92 fixtures should be taken to a neutral venue. Most clubs especially the relegation-threatened teams kicked against it and wanted the league to continue with the home and away format. They won the argument and they were able to convince the government authorities that it would be safe for them to maintain the home and away format.

After a series of uncertainties, the decision to restart the league was subjected to voting, and the majority of the clubs voted that the season should restart on June 17 but behind closed doors and adherence to strict social distancing protocol.

COVID-19 Testing

COVID-19 Testing

After about two months of suspending football in the Premier League, authorities finally allowed players and staff to commence training on 19 May 2020 in small groups in preparation for restarting the league. This was however done under strict social distancing protocols.

At this point, mass testing of players and staff in the Premier League had started and on 17 and 18 May, 748 members of the league were tested. This first round of testing returned 6 positive results which included Watford’s Adrian Mariappa and Burnley assistant manager, Ian Woan. Later in the month, another round of test was conducted and Bournemouth’s Aaron Ramsdale was among those whose result returned positive.

Altogether, 20,559 COVID-19 tests were conducted until the 2019-2020 season ended on July 26, 2020. Out of the number of tests that were conducted on both players and staff of the 20 clubs in the league, a total of 20 returned positive, the biggest name among them was Brendan Rodgers, the manager of Leicester City.

June 17: The 2019-2020 season restarted in the Premier League

June 17 season resumes in the Premier League
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling in action against Arsenal on June 17

Before June 17 was agreed upon as the date the league will restart, many stakeholders have kicked against the whole idea of project restart. Some prominent players that spoke or reacted against it were: Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero, West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell, Newcastle United’s Danny Rose, Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and N’Golo Kante, Watford’s Troy Deeney and a host of others.

N’Golo Kante and Troy Deeney even refused to return to training citing underlying health conditions of their families which will put them on a higher risk. They were later convinced that it was safe to train and they resumed days later.

Finally, on June 17, all eyes were in England to see whether the league will resume as planned. Fortunately for the love of the game, the Etihad Stadium and the villa park came alive as Manchester City welcomed Arsenal and Aston Villa welcomed Sheffield United to play their outstanding game. Other fixtures followed on the weekend of 19–21 June 2020.

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New protocol and the behind closed doors rule in the Premier League

New protocol and the behind closed doors rule in the Premier League

The project restart in the Premier League was done in stages, first with mass testing, then resuming training in small groups, and then the resumption of contact training. Before the actual restart of the league, the Premier League published a long list of guidelines which players and backroom staff must follow. However, there was one aspect which didn’t favour the fans and the business side of the club, which is to play behind closed doors.

In their wisdom, the Premier League and the English FA directed that all the remaining 92 fixtures must be played with nothing more than 300 people in the stadiums per match. These 300 people include backroom staff, footballers, journalists, technical crew, security personnel, and match officials.

More so, all the stadiums were divided into three zones and there were strict restrictions on people that were allowed to enter each of the zones. The zones were: the red zone which was the pitch and the technical areas, the amber zone, which was the stands, and the green zone, which was the stand concourses.

New protocol and the behind closed doors rule in the Premier League

More so, the players and backroom staff were made to enter the stadium in turns and no handshakes were allowed at kick-off.

Prior to and after every match, all the goalposts, the substitution board, the match balls, corner flags and every other equipment in the stadiums were disinfected and cleaned. Even the pre-match conferences were done virtually and post-match interviews were done on the pitch sides.

Premier League official disinfecting a Premier League ball.
Premier League official disinfecting a Premier League ball.

Also, the Premier League adopted FIFA’s 5-substitute per team in a match rule instead of the regular 3-substitute per team in a match. Hence, the league body announced on June 4 that the clubs can name 9 substitutes instead of the usual 7 substitutes per match.

Black Lives Matter Movement in the Premier League

Black Lives Matter Movement in the Premier League

The restart of the Premier League season did not just happen amid the coronavirus pandemic, it was heavily influenced by racial debates of different kinds. These debates were ignited by the brutal murder of an African-American, George Floyd, by a white police officer in the United States of America.

Since the Premier League can not separate itself from the sociopolitical landscape, the league decided to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by replacing the names of footballers on jerseys with Black Lives Matter. This culture continued in the first 12 matches. Afterwards, the Premier League agreed to replace the league badge on players’ jerseys with BLM’s badge for the rest of the season.

More so, the Premier League gave permission to players and staff to take a knee, if they choose to, before the commencement of any Premier League match for the rest of the season in solidarity with the BLM movement.

Over 40 days of Premier League football

After a thrilling 92 fixtures played between June 17 and July 26, the Premier League dream of completing the 2019-2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic finally came to past. The restart of the league was a different ball game entirely as some clubs like Leicester City, Sheffield and Wolves, that were on fire before the coronavirus break suddenly grew a bit cold; some clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton grew a bit hotter. While Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea were neither here nor there after the league restarted.

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On the other hand, Manchester United continued with the form they entered the break with while Manchester City became a total monster after suffering a bitter defeat in the hands of Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final.

In fact, if the last 9 games were to be used to arrange the Premier League table for the 2019-2020 season, Liverpool football club, the champions of the league, would not even be in the top four. Manchester City won it clear and square.

Here is the Premier League standing in the last 9 games for all the clubs, including their points and Goals Difference:

  1. Manchester City – 21 points +27 GD
  2. Manchester United – 21 points, +16 GD
  3. Southampton – 18 points, +8 GD
  4. Tottenham – 18 points, +7 GD
  5. Chelsea – 18 points, +3 GD
  6. Liverpool – 17 points, +7 GD
  7. Arsenal – 16 points, +7 GD
  8. Wolves – 16 points, +4 GD
  9. Burnley – 15 points, -1 GD
  10. West Ham – 12 points, +2 GD
  11. Everton – 12 points, -1 GD
  12. Brighton – 12 points, -6 GD
  13. Sheffield United – 10 points, -5 GD
  14. Newcastle – 9 points, -4 GD
  15. Leicester City – 9 points, -4 GD
  16. Aston Villa – 9 points, -4 GD
  17. Watford – 7 points, -10 GD
  18. Bournemouth – 7 points, -7 GD
  19. Crystal Palace – 4 points, -13 GD
  20. Norwich – 0 points, -22 GD

Top goalscorers since the restart

Raheem Sterling – 9
Michail Antonio – 8
Danny Ings – 7
Harry Kane – 7
Anthony Martial – 6
Bruno Fernandes – 6
Olivier Giroud – 6
Mason Greenwood – 5
Phil Foden – 5

The Premier League 2019-2020 season top 5 highest goalscorers

  1. Jamie Vardy – Leicester City 23 Goals
  2. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Arsenal 22 Goals
  3. Danny Ings – Southampton 22 Goals
  4. Raheem Sterling – Manchester City 20 Goals
  5. Mohamed Salah – Liverpool 19 Goals

Kevin De Bruyne Breaks Thierry Henry’s assists record

Kevin De Bruyne Breaks Thierry Henry's assists record
Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and his club’s manager Pep Guardiola posing with the playmaker award.

Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne won the Premier League playmaker of the year for the second time in a row after making 20 assists in the Premier League season. The Belgium football star broke the assists record set by Thierry Henry in the 2002-2003 season while playing for Arsenal. On the other hand, Manchester City and Brazil goalkeeper, Ederson, won the season’s Golden Glove award for the first time in his career, after keeping 16 clean sheets throughout the season.

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