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.
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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-Wright: Soccer 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:
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.
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:
Special PST roundtable: Premier League suspended season originally appeared on NBCSports.com