News, Culture & Society

Why next season could be the strangest EVER with no fans and no League Cup

As Premier League officials scramble to resume the season amid the coronavirus crisis, the fate of the 2020-21 campaign appears ever more uncertain.

Last month, all 20 top-flight clubs confirmed their intention to play the 92 games needed to decide the final table, with the title, European spots and relegation places all yet to be confirmed.

The current plan, dubbed ‘Project Restart’, would see matches played behind closed doors from June 8, with the season completed by the end of July.

The Premier League is gearing up to return to action behind closed doors from June 8

However, Sportsmail revealed on Thursday that there are growing fears that it will prove impossible to safely start playing matches again, given the logistical nightmare posed by the deadly pandemic.

A number of clubs believe that the most likely outcome will see no clubs relegated and two or three clubs promoted from the Championship, creating a bigger division next season.

That would have a knock-on effect in terms of scheduling, the number of games played by every team and, potentially, the fate of the League Cup.

The 2020-21 campaign is shaping up to be unlike anything we have seen before, with clubs’ finances hit hard by the coronavirus, TV broadcasters planning for a season without fans inside stadiums and teams playing away from their home grounds.

Here, Sportsmail takes a closer look at what football could look like when next season eventually kicks off. 

A BIGGER PREMIER LEAGUE

Although top flight officials remain hopeful about restarting the season, it is believed that an alternative solution would be to cancel it and scrap relegation for a year.

Two or three Championship teams would then be promoted based on a merit-based scoring system, in all likelihood points per game, to create a division of 22 or 23 teams next season. 

The move would increase the number of Premier League fixtures from 38 to either 42 or 44, ensuring the packed calendar is stretched to breaking point. 

The 2020-21 season would then see either five or six teams relegated back down to the Championship, rather than the usual three.

Sportsmail understands that the Premier League see this option as a way of closing the door on any incredibly costly legal challenges from clubs unhappy about being denied promotion or resigned to relegation this term.

Championship leaders Leeds could be handed automatic promotion if the season is cancelled

Championship leaders Leeds could be handed automatic promotion if the season is cancelled

NO LEAGUE CUP 

A bigger top-flight may satisfy the majority of clubs currently in and around the bottom three, but it could have dire consequences for the League Cup.

On Thursday Sportsmail revealed that the competition, as well as the FA Cup, would come under intense pressure to go, either permanently or for one season. 

However, with scrapping the FA Cup not seen as a realistic option, getting rid of the League Cup for at least one season has been discussed by top-flight officials.

The increased number of Premier League games is viewed as an opportunity to get dispose of what, to many, is an unnecessary distraction. 

Whether the competition would return for the 2021-22 season is unknown. 

Raheem Sterling (left) and Kevin De Bruyne pose with the League Cup at Wembley on March 1

Raheem Sterling (left) and Kevin De Bruyne pose with the League Cup at Wembley on March 1

STRAIGHT INTO THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

UEFA have given Europe’s top leagues the chance to complete their domestic seasons, with the Champions League and Europa League taking a backseat.

Although it is not yet known if the competitions will return in their normal format, it is believed UEFA want both completed by the end of August.

The English teams still in Europe – Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Wolves – would likely play all of their remaining knockout games after completing the current Premier League season at the end of July.

How playing a number of European games in August, the month the 2020-21 season is due to start in, affects those teams involved remains to be seen.

They could all find themselves back in European action just a couple weeks after the finals are held too, with opening group stage matches usually scheduled for mid-September.

Liverpool lifted the Champions League on June 1 last year but this year's showpiece is delayed

Liverpool lifted the Champions League on June 1 last year but this year’s showpiece is delayed

A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRANSFER WINDOW

Clubs at every level have taken a financial hit during the coronavirus, losing revenue in the form of gate receipts, merchandise sales and sponsorship.

That is likely to have a big effect on the summer transfer window, which appears certain to be pushed back given the current season will finish over two months later than planned, if it finishes at all.

Sportsmail understands clubs will be able to buy and sell again from mid-August, with the window running until October so that clubs who are struggling financially have plenty of time to cash-in on players. 

Straight swap deals between clubs will become more prevalent, while those with cash available to spend will also use unwanted players to help lower the amount of money they have to part with.

Barcelona, who have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus crisis and could be set to lose around £174million, are determined to trim their squad by offloading players as part of deals for Neymar and Lautaro Martinez.

Paul Pogba could leave Manchester United this summer if a suitable swap deal is offered up

Paul Pogba could leave Manchester United this summer if a suitable swap deal is offered up

Juventus are in a similar position with a big squad, a huge wage bill and Financial Fair Play regulations to abide by as they look to strengthen this summer.

Manchester United, however, do have money to spend and are ready to back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho are high on his list of targets.

Paul Pogba could finally be on his way out of Old Trafford to Juve or Real Madrid, providing they can offer at least one player Solskjaer wants as part of the deal. 

Manchester City will invest in new players after a disappointing season, but Arsenal and Tottenham cannot afford to spend big when the window reopens. 

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

The Premier League’s plan to resume this season involves games being played behind closed doors with no fans and potentially just 300 people – players, staff, medical personnel, media – in attendance.

A number of games on the continent, particularly in Italy and in the Champions League, were played without fans prior to football being shut down, but at the time it seemed as if it would be a temporary measure.

That is no longer the case, with the remainder of this season certain to take place in empty stadiums with no atmosphere.

And with no details from the government about when the lockdown will be eased and social distancing guidelines relaxed in the UK, at least some of next season appears certain to played out under the same strict rules.

On Thursday, The Times even claimed that the entirety of the 2020-21 Premier League season could go ahead without fans in attendance if the government’s policy on mass gatherings is dependent on the discovery of a coronavirus vaccine.

Neymar and PSG beat Borussia Dortmund behind closed doors in the Champions League

Neymar and PSG beat Borussia Dortmund behind closed doors in the Champions League 

NEUTRAL VENUES 

One of the issues being discussed at Friday’s shareholders meeting is the use of ‘approved stadiums’, with all 20 top-flight grounds unlikely to be used to finish the the current season.

Clubs would prefer to host games in Premier League stadiums, but it is understood they could be convinced to play at club training grounds and neutral venues such as England’s base, St George’s Park.

The Premier League will choose grounds which conform to hygiene standards in a bid to create as sterile an environment as possible.

There will be guidelines on where players get changed pre and post-match, while the customary pre-match handshake will be dropped.

The same rules seem certain to be in place for at least part of next season, meaning clubs could go well over six months without playing at home.

England's St George's Park base could be used to host Premier League games from June 8

England’s St George’s Park base could be used to host Premier League games from June 8

A NEW VIEWING EXPERIENCE

Sportsmail revealed last month that drive-in screenings of games, digital viewing parties and cardboard cutouts of supporters were among the ideas under consideration by Premier League clubs in order to ‘maintain fan loyalty’.  

Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach have filled their Borussia Park stadium with cutouts depicting the faces of supporters and Premier League clubs are considering a similar move. 

There has also been talk of Sky and BT using CGI crowds during their coverage of games in order to cover up the empty stands.

inews claim that the use of computer generated images of supporters is being seriously considered by TV companies as they look to improve the look and feel of behind closed doors games.

Sky Sports will also give viewers the chance to listen to crowd noise via the red button in a bid to create an artificially enhanced atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Premier League clubs are likely to keep using online ‘viewing parties’ when football restarts after having success with archive matches during lockdown.

Digital programmes, sent via email or downloadable through club websites, could also be made available for supporters in a bid to keep them engaged. 

Danish side FC Midtjylland have installed giant screens in their stadium’s car park for a mass broadcast of matches, although that may prove impossible in England if social distancing measure are still in place next season. 

Borussia Monchengladbach placed cardboard cutouts of fans in their stadium last month

Borussia Monchengladbach placed cardboard cutouts of fans in their stadium last month

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk