Premier League clubs have been given the thumbs up to begin arranging friendlies ahead of the resumption of the season in two weeks’ time. But sides must ensure they follow strict protocols in order to stage the matches. The league’s highly-awaited return has been set for Wednesday June 17, with Manchester City hosting Arsenal and Sheffield United travelling to Aston Villa.
And with clubs now back in full-contact training, they have also been given permission to take on other teams in behind-closed-doors friendlies to help get players back up to full speed.
No Premier League matches have been held since March 9, since third-placed Leicester’s 4-0 thrashing of relegation-threatened Villa at the King Power Stadium.
Yet while players have kept fit at home and have now been back in training since May 19, they are still searching to rediscover their match fitness.
And so according to the Daily Telegraph, the league will allow friendly matches to be held at stadiums or training grounds – provided a list of conditions are met to ensure players and staff keep to social distancing guidelines and maintain proper hygiene.
The report adds that among these rules will be that clubs cannot travel for longer than 90 minutes in order to face an opponent, while all players must travel to the matches in their own cars and maybe even already in their kits.
No official Premier League referees will be allowed to officiate the matches, with it required that members of coaching staff will oversee proceedings.
As with matches when the league returns, full and thorough risk assessment reports of the stadium or training ground will be expected before games.
All players involved will also have had to have recorded a recent negative coronavirus test. In the fourth round of testing, there were no positive tests from 1,130 players and staff tested.
The Telegraph add that Newcastle could be granted special dispensation to travel further than their rivals to play matches, given the lack of clubs that may be available to face them in the north.
Clubs will begin to organise friendlies later this week, with the start of the season two weeks tomorrow.
It is thought that several Championship teams have had requests from Premier League clubs to play friendly matches already.
Liverpool and West Ham have already held squad friendlies at their own stadiums in recent days.
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The Reds had a short 11v11 match at Anfield while the Hammers’ first-team squad also had a game at the London Stadium, as both teams trained at their empty grounds to get used to playing in venues without fans.
Liverpool assistant manager Pepijn Lijnders said of being back on Merseyside: “It was an unbelievable feeling to be back at this iconic stadium.
“It’s our home. Anfield is basically the second-strongest connection we have, after our own homes.
“We had a training week full of intense sessions and to finish it off with Anfield was just great.
“We wanted to give the players the feeling of playing and competing without a crowd.
“We are just going step by step back to our way of playing, knowing that we have to work hard in training and be really committed to our principles to reach the same level that we had.
“Today was an important step in that direction; firstly getting familiar with the process around the games and secondly giving our squad playing time and competition very close to the environment that we will have in the future.”
While similarly, Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers said: “We’ll have some practice games in our own stadium before we play, so they’ll feel and get a sense of that.
“The game is not the same. It’s absolutely not. It can’t be. However, it’s what we have to do.
“The intensity and commitment of the players will still be there. We’d obviously love our supporters to be there but there won’t be any.”
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