How will Europe's 'Big Five' look after the restart?by AFP
Champions League balls. (AFP Photo)
PARIS: Football fans in England and Italy received the news they had been waiting for on Thursday after the Premier League and Serie A got restart dates for their suspended seasons.
England's top flight gave itself a provisional date of June 17 less than an hour before Italy's Sport Minister announced that the country's elite league could restart on June 20.
They will join the already-restarted German Bundesliga and Spain's La Liga in trying to finish their seasons, but how do the leagues shape up in the coronavirus era?
-- The first of the major leagues to retake the field, with only three rounds of matches played since the mid-May restart Bayern Munich already looked certainties to win their eighth straight league title.
Hansi Flick's side are seven points clear after beating title rivals Borussia Dortmund at an all-but empty Signal Iduna Park, the third post-lockdown win in a row and one that reasserts their supremacy.
RB Leipzig, Borussia Moenchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen will fight it out for the other two Champions League places.
The league has given fans a look at what other returning top divisions will look like once back in action, with silent stadiums and strict medical protocols that enforce social distancing and make players on the substitutes bench wear face masks.
Similar measures are expected to be adopted by the other 'Big Five', with Spain, Italy and England all hit especially hard by the virus.
-- Liverpool's bid to win their first league title in three decades was given a huge boost on Thursday when the Premier League announced a provisional restart date of June 17.
Jurgen Klopp's side need just two wins to seal a title that looked a certainty before the coronavirus shut down global sport, having built a 25-point lead over reigning champions Manchester City by March.
However celebrations will be mooted, with no fans in the stands and the pandemic preventing the wild partying that such a victory would have otherwise provoked.
With nine matches remaining for most clubs, Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United are all eyeing Chelsea in fourth, while four points separate second-from-bottom Aston Villa and Brighton in 15th.
-- Vincenzo Spadafora's announcement of a June 20 restart should bring an end to months of bickering between the abrasive sports minister and Italy's football authorities, and could yet see the resolution to one of the most exciting title races in years.
Speaking after a summit on Thursday, Spadafora said that the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) had assured him of a "plan B and C" should the virus crisis flare up again.
Plan B would be playoffs for top spots and relegation "playouts". Plan C would be ending the season and assigning league positions as per where clubs were after the last match.
With 12 matches remaining for most clubs, reigning champions Juventus are a point ahead of Lazio, who are chasing their first league title in 20 years. Serie A bosses will reportedly meet on Friday to discuss a fixture list that could see matches twice a week until August 2.
There is some scepticism as to whether the season can be completed as the medical protocol governing the return says one positive result at a club means players and staff must go into a two-week quarantine.
-- La Liga chief Javier Tebas said earlier this week that he wanted the season to restart on Thursday June 11 with the Seville Derby after it was given permission to start as of June 8.
Matches could be played throughout the week after the restart, after the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) gave the league special dispensation for the rest of the 2019-20 season.
On Wednesday the RFEF won a court ruling allowing the body to decide which days matches could be played, but added that it would permit games being played every day for the remainder of coronavirus-interrupted campaign as a gesture of "goodwill".
As well as matches being played behind closed doors, players will also undergo tests for the virus the day before games and will have their temperatures taken before being allowed to enter stadiums.
Barcelona lead Real Madrid by two points ahead of the restart.
-- France remains the odd one out among Europe's big leagues, as the country's government is refusing to countenance a return to action for Ligue 1.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday that "now is not the time" for professional sports league to recommence, even as he announced further relaxations to France's virus lockdown rules.
Paris Saint-Germain were named champions when the league was stopped on April 28, with Toulouse and Amiens relegated.
The latter two clubs have announced that they will appeal the decision at France's highest administrative court.