Premier League clubs and players took the first step towards resumption of the 2019-20 season this week. Most players returned to training in small groups while being mandated to keep social distance and not many any contact. The guidelines also require that players train for a maximum of 75 minutes (not including gym session) and groups to be limited to five at most.
Even as players get back to the pitches after over two months, there is no certainty that they will be able to play a competitive game anytime soon. "It was the first time we discussed curtailment " it's still our aim to finish the season obviously but it's important to discuss all the options with our clubs," said Premier League chief executive Richard Masters on 11 May. One of the reasons for contention between the clubs is the plan to restart the league in neutral venues, besides the safety concerns raised by players, training staff and security.
The English FA have stated that the season would not be declared null and void which would come as a relief to Liverpool who topped the league when the season was disrupted by the pandemic. The League had considered 12 June as restart date but that looks increasingly difficult as days pass by. UEFA's deadline of 25 May for all European leagues to confirm their restart plans or decision to cancel the season altogether doesn't help alleviate pressure. Additionally, the leagues are expected to be done by 2 August in order to give time for the Champions and Europa League to be concluded. If the Premier League does resume by the latter half of June, clubs would be cramped into playing nine matches in about four-five weeks.
With the future in the air, Premier League could be forced into making a decision on the champions, relegation, European spots based on a series of options. Ligue 1, for example, opted to use the points per game model to crown PSG as champions.
Option 1: Stay as is
Simple and easy. The standings stay as is. Liverpool are crowned champions; Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester United play in the Champions League next season provided Manchester City are barred from the European competition. However, if City win their appeal against the ban, they take the spot in Europe while United would have to contend themselves with Europa League football once again. Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich City are relegated to the Championship. The issue with this approach is that Aston Villa, who have a game in hand, go down without a shot at saving themselves. The Villains can ensure another year in the top flight if they win their game in hand.
Netherlands' Eredivisie decided fate out of the season by sticking to the standings. With nine games left, Ajax and AZ Alkmaar will play in the Champions League next season even though there will be no champion in the Eredivisie. The league, however, decided to scrap relegation and promotion for the season. Belgium also decided to scrap the league and announced Club Brugge as champions by sticking to the same standings.
Option 2: Points per game
Points per game approach was used in France to decide the fate of the clubs. Like Premier League, France had uneven number of games left in the season for teams. PSG were crowned champions, Olympique Marseille took the second spot and Stade Rennais came third.
In this method, each team's average points per game is considered as the deciding factor. The two changes in the Premier League standings in this method will see Sheffield United leapfrog Wolves and Arsenal going above their London rivals Spurs. If this method is used, Sheffield will go into Europa League and Arsenal will be in contention of playing in the same tournament. Liverpool would be champions and there would be no change in the relegation standings.
The issue with this method is that it doesn't take upcoming games into account. Norwich, for example, are due to play their last six games, five at home, against teams that are currently in the bottom half of the standings. Villa, in comparison, have Chelsea, Sheffield, Arsenal, Manchester United, Wolves and Liverpool to go through in their survival bid.
Option 3: Weighted points per game
This method was considered in France before being scrapped. League One and League Two clubs in England will vote next week on what method they prefer to decide their fate with the weighted points per game getting preference, says The Athletic. England Rugby employed the same method to decide standings in English Club Championships and Womens RFU Leagues.
As per this method, a team's home and away performance so far this season is taken into account and points allocated for 19 home and away games each. By way of this method, Liverpool would finish the season with 107 points to be crowned champions for the first time since 1990. When compared to the regular standings, Sheffield and Wolves swap places in sixth and seventh as do Burnley and Palace. The most interesting change is at the bottom with West Ham slipping into relegation zone and Bournemouth becoming safe. Villa and Norwich would continue to hold the bottom two spots.
So, if it comes to choosing between regular points per game and weighted points per game, the safety (or lack of) of West Ham and Bournemouth would be key points.
The predicament with this method however is that it doesn't factor the opponents left to play. As mentioned, Villa have quite a few tough opponents to go through unlike Norwich. In another example, Brighton, who have a home PPG of 1.29 (second best in the bottom six) have Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle yet to come to the Amex Stadium.
Option 4: Rewind the clock
There are two ways of ending the logjam with uneven number of games: go back to matchday 19 when half the season was over and each team had played each other once. The more comprehensive line of thought would be to go back to the last time when everyone had played the same number of games. To check the status of the league then, one has to go only two matchdays back. Everyone had played 27 games as of 25 February when Liverpool came from 1-2 down to beat West Ham 3-2 at Anfield.
As per this approach, Liverpool would be champions with the top five remaining unchanged. Spurs would climb to sixth, from current eighth sending Wolves in their place, thereby taking the Champions League spot if City are banned. At the bottom, both Bournemouth and Aston Villa would be safe with West Ham and Watford dropping going into the Championship.
This method would see quite a few teams dropping places thus affecting prize money distribution. The likelihood of it getting the approval from clubs seems dire.