The Premier League says there is “optimism that we will see fans back in the stadiums next season”, but crowds are likely to return “on a phased basis”.
Top-flight football is set to return after a three-month shutdown on June 17, with matches behind closed doors at venues yet to be finalised.
Sky Sports will show 64 of this season’s remaining live Premier League games, and make 25 available free-to-air when play resumes.
- Sky to show 64 live PL games – 25 free to air
- Premier League – all the remaining games
- Premier League table – as it stands
In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports News, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters reflected on the proposed return next month, the use of VAR in the remaining 92 matches this season and when supporters might be able to return to stadiums.
“No one knows when matches will move away from the behind-closed-doors model and it is right to have contingency plans in place, but there is optimism at the Premier League and at clubs that we will see fans back in the stadiums next season and it may happen on a phased basis,” Masters said.
“Hopefully it will be a huge morale boost and that is what we’ve been working towards.
“We’ve got some incredible fans in this country and we all know the Premier League as we know and love it won’t be fully back until we have fans back through the turnstiles.
“Getting it back on our TV screens for people to enjoy will hopefully give the whole country a boost.”
Reflecting on Thursday’s announcement of the league’s proposed return, Masters added: “We have put a new staging post in the ground to start on June 17 but to get there we have got to go through a lot of hard work and more consultation to get our stage three protocols agreed. There is still a lot of work to be done before we can kick-off.
“The talks were intense. Yesterday, to put a new staging post in the ground wasn’t a vote but it was supported by everybody.”
Premier League return – key points
Masters accepts some of the remaining 92 games this season may have to take place in neutral venues and said: “It’s our preference to play the games where they were originally planned home and away but there are some concerns. We’ll have a clearer picture in the next seven to 10 days but we hope the amount of games will be low.
“They (the police) have legitimate concerns but we think we can mitigate some of the issues they’re trying to deal with. Ultimately, we want the season to be played out on the pitch and we’re discussing a number of options to make it as fair as possible.
“We’ll do everything we possibly can to deliver a trophy presentation. It’s really important to mark that moment and to give the fans that memory to mark it.”
Masters expects VAR use and transfer window this summer
There has been much uncertainty over potential rule changes when play resumes, including the use of VAR and a proposed switch to five substitutions.
Talks remain ongoing but Masters expects VAR to be used and that a transfer window will take place once the season is ended.
“VAR has its own social distancing issues, but we think there is a way of completing the season with VAR,” Masters said. “Absolutely our intention is to complete the season with VAR in place.
“I think the hub itself could be a problem. If you can’t do the hub you have to do it remotely, so that’s the model we’re looking at.”
On the transfer window, Masters said: “Again, that’s one of the topics we are discussing. We have had, I would say, first day discussions about it, but no conclusions yet.
“I think there is a judgement call to be made and I think we’ll get to that in the next couple of weeks.
“The transfer window will open after the end of the season. It’s just a question of how long it goes on for.”
When will this season’s remaining PL games be staged?
New staggered kick-off times will be used for the remaining 92 matches.
Games on a Friday will kick off at 8pm, while on Saturday the slots will be 12.30pm, 3pm, 5.30pm and 8pm. Sunday matches will kick off at either 12pm, 2pm, 4.30pm and 7pm, with Monday games starting at 8pm.
Midweek games on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays will kick off at either 6pm or 8pm.
The plan for football to resume behind closed doors awaits the green light from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and government.
Sky Sports News understands that stage three – the return to play aspect – of the DCMS’ guidance on the return of elite sport is still being finalised.
The fixtures left to play
The full fixture schedule, including dates and kick-off times, is still to be confirmed but there are plenty of big derbies and crunch clashes at top and bottom still in store.
Liverpool, so close to the title, have Manchester City to play again, as well as Merseyside rivals Everton, while a north London showdown between Arsenal and Tottenham is on the agenda.
The race for European qualification is on, with Manchester United just three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and Wolves and Sheffield United in the chasing pack.
And while Norwich are adrift at the bottom, only four points separate 15th-placed Brighton and 19th-placed Aston Villa.
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