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Special PST roundtable: Premier League suspended season

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It’s been a head-spinning period for the world, and the soccer world has been shuffled to the back of the pack as we concern ourselves with the vulnerable population in the face of the coronavirus.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

How will this season play out? Seemingly, Europe is going to do everything in its power to complete all fixtures. Whether it does or not, we’ve got ideas.

The pausing of the Premier League season, like many things, shows the gravity of the COVID-19 situation. Is there one story in the soccer world that stood out to you the most this past week?

Joe Prince-WrightSoccer is secondary in this horrendous time for the world. From a Premier League perspective I think the quick announcements one after the other that Mikel Arteta and then Callum Hudson-Odoi had tested positive were moments when this all became very real, very quickly for people in the UK, the Premier League and PL fans in general.

Nick Mendola: The steady stream of young footballers at the peak of their physical lives carrying this virus, whether Daniele Rugani or Ezequiel Garay, really put in perspective the danger of the asymptomatic carriers. Then to see a focal point of the season like Mikel Arteta affected, let alone the Spanish youth coach passing away, has reinforced my will to self-sacrifice and stay home.

Kyle Bonn: The financial impact of this public health crisis is catastrophic, and the soccer world isn’t immune to that effect. The knowledge that smaller soccer clubs could be severely impacted is devastating to read, and really brings to the forefront the effect this pandemic has on all facets of society.


Obviously the situation is dire for so many people, and soccer not so much. Still, we’ve got more than a few big items to resolve. Which club is hurt more by an extended break in terms of table Fortune? Which club could see the biggest boost by a prolonged reset?

Joe Prince-Wright: I’m sure teams who were getting into a good rhythm like Chelsea and Man United may be impacted but then again so many teams will use this time to get players back to full fitness and they could both benefit from that. If and when the PL season resumes, it seems like Spurs have the most to gain with Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son both expected to play in the majority of their remaining games. If we get to that point.

Nick Mendola: Let’s start with the second question. The delay may move Jose Mourinho’s Spurs from injury-addled and hoping for a Europa League to a top four probability once Harry Kane, Heung-min Son, and back fit and firing. Not to mention Mourinho and clubs with good tactical managers having all this time to reassess best practices. Let’s not forget Pep Guardiola may get to roll out healthy Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte. This could sting Arsenal and Manchester United, who had been going really well and now may have a super-congested fixture list after some serious time off the pitch.

Kyle Bonn: Obviously Liverpool’s title chase is severely impacted, and given their long drought and hard work to rise under Jurgen Klopp, an argument could be made that the Reds are the most negatively affected club of the lot. However, their form seemed to be dipping of late, and while the pandemic didn’t come quickly enough to save their Champions League fortunes, their domestic form could see a reversal as they avoid limping to the finish line in league play. Similarly, Tottenham could benefit greatly from this break. Spurs’ play on the field had been abysmal and their attack was stifled by injuries to key players who could now return before the end of the season. Conversely, Chelsea had put a small difficult stretch behind them and had turned a new leaf, and while their significant injury list could be alleviated with the time off, the Blues will rue the break from the aspect that they had only recently topped Liverpool in Cup action plus the win over Tottenham in late February and the clobbering of Everton just before the stoppage.


Let’s delve into the theoretical: If the season was not allowed to conclude, how would you favor solving the relegation picture? With three teams on the same amount of points between 16th and 18th and zillions of dollars at stake, this one’s big.

Joe Prince-Wright: I think it would be incredibly unfair to relegate the three teams in the bottom three right now. All three have a real chance of getting out of the relegation zone. I’d be in favour of relegating nobody and then promoting West Brom and Leeds, if that’s the route they go down.

Kyle Bonn: I think, for this reason alone, the Premier League (and many others) will do everything in their power to finish the season. However, if that’s not possible, there are a few solutions. One is to just go off the table as-is, and while that’s difficult from a competitive balance perspective because the teams have played an unbalanced schedule, it would be more fair than other, less desirable options such as leaving the leagues the way they are for next season which is no fun. Here are a few more fun, but less likely options:

  1. A full-on promotion/relegation tournament – basically an expanded version of what Germany has…take, say, the bottom 6 teams in the PL and the top 6 teams in the Championship and let them duke it out.
  2. A 23-team Premier League next season with four relegation places – send up the two Championship teams in automatic qualifying positions, hold the Championship playoff as planned (if time), but don’t relegate anyone. Then slowly taper it back to 20 teams over the next 3 seasons by relegating one more team than promoting.

Nick Mendola: The most proper way to go would be to bring up Leeds and West Brom and keep a 22-team division with five sides to get relegated next season. The Championship’s playoff sides would feel aggrieved, but pulling the big money from the PL sides seems more egregious than denying someone a spot in the mix (especially since there really aren’t any clearly terrible sides stinking up the table this season).


How about the top four?

Joe Prince-Wright: This is a little different to the relegation situation but equally as tricky. I would suggest a playoff, if possible, between the teams who are within reach of fourth spot but that would include almost half the league. Maybe an agreement could be made to keep the top four as it is.

Kyle Bonn: I think, unfortunately, the best way to resolve this is to leave it the way it is. Teams in the current top four (five? Man City?) get the Champions League bids. There’s really no other fair way to do this

Nick Mendola: I’d like to see a playoff here, too, because fifth is likely involved due to Man City’s UCL ban. Allow the top three their places, and maybe Chelsea if you want to limit teams. Then fifth plays eighth, sixth versus seventh. Winners go for fifth, the other go to UEL. It only adds three matches. This, of course, assumes that the UCL and UEL qualifying rounds are also adjusted.


Lots of interesting ideas have been proffered to solve calendar issues (A mini-tournament or single leg ties to decide the Champions League; Starting the league calendar later until the winter World Cup in 2022). Are there any you think could prove to be better than the current system?

Joe Prince-Wright: I think the 2019-20 season should be finished, whatever that means. If it has to resume again in September and be played until October, that is fine by me. We can then start the 2020-21 campaign early and play through one or two international breaks to catch up. If the league doesn’t start again until September, players will have had a lengthy break off and will be ready to play.

Nick Mendola: I’ll be laughed out of the room, and that’s fine, but I’d love to see the season start and finish a bit later. Wayne Rooney‘s proposal was just to get to the winter World Cup of 2022, but a dramatic rearrangement of the FIFA international calendar would be nice. Maybe a couple 3-week international breaks instead of five 2-week hits.

Kyle Bonn: Simple answer: no. Current format is really fun.


Did you find yourself trying to feast on any soccer that was televised, hypercritical of anyone who kept playing, or both?

Joe Prince-Wright: I watched games on TV from Liga MX and listened to some lower-tier English leagues on the radio but I think the soccer world has come to the correct conclusion to at least ban all fans from stadiums. In different parts of the world the situation is different but it seems that now the universal plan is to stop playing all games until things improve. That is the correct call. I love soccer but I obviously love humanity, life and this world we live in a billion times more.

Nick Mendola: It was a fun idea to tune into the Istanbul derby, especially with American winger Tyler Boyd playing, but realizing most of the players would’ve rather been with their families, well, that took a lot of joy out of watching that or the Liga MX matches. Stay home, and let’s celebrate together when we can.

Kyle Bonn: I honestly found myself hyper-critical of teams still playing, especially seeing the reaction from players, going so far as to protest their forced employment.

More coronavirus connections to soccer:

Season restart preview: Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton season restart
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Brighton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Seagulls when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: If there’s a team whose results don’t show the way they’ve played, it’s Brighton. Graham Potter’s Seagulls have the sixth-best possession percentage in the league, are a tidy seventh in passing, and are mid-table in tackles per game, interceptions per game, and shots per game.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]

The expected goals stats show even less reward for good work, with Brighton scoring 8.35 goals less than expected in open play and 4.38 less from corner kicks.

Despite all these good things, Brighton is two points clear of the drop zone with nine matches to play and has a terribly challenging schedule especially at the Amex Stadium.


Tactical analysis: Graham Potter has put the Seagulls in myriad formations this season, though he’s been utilizing at least four at the back since the calendar turned to 2020. He’s ready to attack but pragmatic given the club’s hopes of staving off the teams below it in the fight for PL survival.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Brighton’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Ryan —–

— Montoya — Webster — Dunk — Burn —

—– Propper —– Mooy —–

— Trossard — Gross — Alzate —

—– Maupay—–

Glenn Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh are excellent weapons to have on the bench, and Brighton’s also got a very good center back in reserve in the form of Shame Duffy and an underrated center mid in Dale Stephens who will see playing time, too. On paper, this team is too good to go down.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle
Away: Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Burnley

Predicted finish: They’ll do enough to get by, though that home fixture list is simply brutal. Safe before the final weekend.

Social media wrap: All 20 Premier League clubs, many players stand against racism

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The protests in the United States have inspired anti-racism statements from around the world, including all gestures from all 20 Premier League clubs and many players and managers.

There have been ongoing protests and horrible violence in the U.S. since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Newcastle United’s American defender DeAndre Yedlin issued an emotional thread (below) as one of a great deal of players to express hopes for change and solidarity, while Schalke’s Weston McKennie explained his wearing a black armband reading “Justice For George” in the Bundesliga this weekend.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

From Ancelotti to Zaha, Antonio to Yedlin, Arsenal to Wolves, we’ve collected many of their sentiments below in what we hope serves as universal disdain for racial prejudice.

Some players like Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and even entire clubs (Arsenal) changed their online identity photos to reflect these troubled times.

All PL clubs issued messages of solidarity, many using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and making no bones about where they stand.

And we’ll start with a longtime PL club currently in the Championship, who blasted a season ticket holder’s rejection of their unifying Tweet.

Here are some other clubs and players worldwide to have noticed what’s happening in the United States.

 

Season restart preview: Bournemouth

Bournemouth season restart
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Bournemouth when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Tough sledding for the Cherries, who face zero of their fellow bottom-six sides (though 13th place Newcastle and 14th place Saints both visit the Vitality Stadium).

There’s been an element of bad luck to Bournemouth’s woes, with its expected goals stats showing Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson have deserved better end product and that the Cherries’ 14 goals from open play should be closer to 22. The defense has been bad and xG says it could’ve been worse, too. Injuries had hit Bournemouth’s defense corps in a big way, too. How much better will they be after the break?

[ MORE: Ranking every Cherries player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Eddie Howe utilized a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders for much of the early season, but has gone between a lone striker with a packed-in midfielder and a 4-3-3 when he thinks an opponent is exploitable.

Howe started a 4-4-2 against almost all of the Cherries’ remaining opponents, choosing a 5-4-1 against Wolves and Man City. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue that, especially when some matches may dictate a draw or limited goal differential damage over wins.


Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ramsdale —–

— Smith — S. Cook — Ake — Rico —

—– Lerma —– Billing — L. Cook —

— Fraser —– C. Wilson —– King —–

Howe prefers to attack when at all possible, but the points will be at a premium against some very challenging opponents. It’s a safe bet that he’ll ask a lot from his forwards while trying to deploy his three relentless midfielders together whenever possible. The question here is whether Aaron Ramsdale returns quickly from his COVID-19 positive test, or if it’ll be Artur Boruc or someone else between the sticks.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Spurs, Leicester City, Southampton
Away: Wolves, Manchester United, Man City, Everton

Predicted finish: The Cherries stay up, just, as King and Callum Wilson deliver the goods in front of a determined and improved midfield.

Premier League clubs will reportedly be allowed preseason friendlies

Premier League return
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Premier League clubs will be allowed to play preseason matches ahead of the 2019-20’s restart season later this month.

There will be strict protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the matches will likely be officiated by club coaching staffs (We have so many Jose Mourinho as ref quips to make here, but let’s keep going anyway).

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Sky Sports says clubs will be limited to opponents within 90 minutes of their venue, and that players will have to drive themselves to the stadiums and go directly to the field in uniform.

With the League One and League Two seasons still hanging in the balance, it’s likely PL sides will be limited to each other and Championship sides. Presumably clubs will not want to meet others still on their fixture list.

We assume some players will get dressed in their vehicles outside the ground, but allow yourself some levity in these challenging times and imagine a fully kitted-up Virgil van Dijk driving the roads from Liverpool to Wigan Athletic.