Premier League Stories - Pablo ZabaletaMar 22
New Normal - Why the Premier League could be unrecognisable when competition resumes
The Bundesliga has already shown how the coronavirus pandemic will change how football is played for the foreseeable future, so what can Premier League fans expect?
Top-flight football finally returns to BT Sport screens this weekend, but will it be Premier League football as we know it?
According to FIFA, the global game will be "quite different" until a vaccine for coronavirus is developed, so what can fans expect when the greatest league in the world returns?
The resumption of the Bundesliga offers a few clues as to what the return of the Premier League will look like, but so early into the restart, it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions.
Nevertheless, here we take a look at what the emerging trends are on the continent and how they could shape the landscape of the Premier League from June 17 onwards.
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What will matchdays look like?
Every Premier League stadium on game day will be split into three zones.
The 'green zone' will be made up of the outer perimeter, including car parking, concourse and land around the ground.
The' amber area' will be made up of area inside the stadium occupied by media, broadcast staff and each club's backroom staff.
The area on and around the pitch will be known as the 'red zone'. The total number allowed at a match will vary from club to club, but will be around 300.
The Red Zone
- Maximum 110 people allowed at any one time.
- People permitted to be inside the zone include players, coaches, medical staff, match officials, groundstaff, HawkEye and VAR technicians.
- All who enter must have a valid clinical passport proving they have tested negative for coronavirus within the last five days.
If there's only one tunnel at the stadium, the away team’s players will enter the pitch first, followed by the home team.
When the two sets of players line up before the game, this will now stand in a staggered formation and handshakes between the two teams will no longer take place.
In terms of the dugout, benches will be expanded to enable social-distancing.
This includes using seats next to the bench or reallocating seats to provide the required distance.
Those in the technical area must maintain social-distancing, with zones marked out to guide them
What about on the pitch?
Premier League stars have been reminded to maintain social distancing wherever possible outside of normal passages of play, while group goal celebrations are being discouraged.
The bumping of elbows, which has been common place in Bundesliga, will not be prohibited but players will be asked to keep touching to a minimum.
Clubs have also been told players must endeavour to keep safe distance from the referee, while coaching staff are being advised to stay away from the fourth official.
Players may be split over more than one dressing room and if necessary other areas inside a stadium such as corporate hospitality areas could be used.
The use of hand sanitisers will be mandatory before and after matches while players have been told to avoid spitting or nose-clearing during a match.
Face masks will not be compulsory unless players expressly wish to do so and nor will players be asked to wear them on arrival at stadiums.
Physios and medical staff will wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when they come on to treat injured players, or when treating players in the dressing room.
With the remaining 92 matches taking place during the hottest summer months, two drinks breaks will take place during each game.
The referee will signal for drinks breaks to be taken midway through each half.
The breaks will last no longer than a minute, with players drinking from their own bottles. The time taken for the break will be added to the end of the half.
Death of home advantage
Forget the mythical power of The Kop and the Stretford End, home advantage could be a thing of the past.
Since the Bundesliga returned behind closed doors home teams have won just over 20% of games, down from 43.3% before the shutdown of play in March while home teams have also scored fewer goals.
Before lockdown there were 1.75 goals per game compared to 1.28 now, while the away teams' winning ratio has risen from 34.83% to 47.8%.
"I don't think that [the change in fortunes at home] is a coincidence," said Bayer Leverkusen boss Peter Bosz, who believes the trend is a direct result of playing games without spectators.
"It's easier for the away teams when there are no fans in the stadium. Without spectators, it comes down more to the quality of players."
Premier League clubs like Brighton and Watford have been determined to avoid playing games at neutral venues, suggesting losing home advantage could hamper their hopes for survival.
But that way of thinking may need revision as, so far at least, home teams are the ones suffering in the Bundesliga.
If the past five matchweeks in Germany are anything to go by, English fans could be about to get more bang for their buck.
Data from the opening two weekends of the Bundesliga suggested more football was being played, with the average ball-in-play time above average for just over half of the teams in action.
The best explanation for this change is that the time in which the ball does go dead is decreasing with clubs opting to use a multi-ball system.
With no ballboys and girls inside the stadium, Bundesliga pitches were instead lined with equally-spaced footballs allowing players to quickly pick up the nearest ball to them and restart play.
It remains to be seen how Premier League clubs will deal with the absence of ballboys but a similar approach, particularly teams like with a big emphasis on possession and ball circulation like Manchester City.
Some clubs are understood to have raised concerns that a mulit-ball system will deny players the time to recover from fatigue when the ball is out of play, potentially leading to greater risk of muscular injury and dehydration in summer months.
As already highlighted, one of the most obvious negative consequences of a higher ball-in-play time is the heightened risk of injury.
In fact, findings from a Uefa study suggested Premier League players may “pay the price” for Project Restart with a rush of muscle injuries when the season resumes on 17 June.
Professor Jan Ekstrand, the lead expert from Uefa’s Elite Club Injury Study Group, suggests the condensed three-week preparation time for clubs is “probably not enough”.
The Uefa study, published this year in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, considered the correlation between the number of pre-season training sessions and in-season injury rates and proposed that even the standard six-week pre-season was insufficient.
“Three and a half weeks is what you have, so you have to accept it but they should be prepared for some more muscle injuries,” he told i. “Maybe that’s a price you have to pay.
“You have around six weeks normally and we’ve been concerned this is a very short period for preparing players for the load they’re going to meet during the competitive season.
“From a medical point of view our hypothesis is that it’s too short to really prepare for match intensity so it might increase the number of muscle injuries, for example, because the detraining has been for a longer time.”
Data collected by the Jena Institute of Sport Science in Germany said there were 0.88 injuries per game in the first round of matches when the Bundesliga resumed.
The pre-lockdown average had been around 0.27, while the injury rate on previous Bundesliga season-opening weekends was around 0.4.
One of the stipulations in the league’s Project Restart dossier states that 'no manual therapy of players by staff (including soft tissue and massage) prior to training is conducted unless it is absolute essential and approved by the Club Doctor in advance'.
The restrictions on pre and post-game treatment has led to significant fears from players that it could leave them susceptible to injury.
Players, particularly those with a history of muscular problems, rely heavily on daily treatment to safely get themselves through training and matches.
Eight muscle injuries were sustained in the first matchweek back in the Bundesliga, but that number has decreased week-on-week.
Ahead of his side's return to Premier League competition on Wednesday, Man City boss Pep Guardiola admitted he was concerned about a greater risk of injury to his players.
"All the teams in the Premier League have just three and a half weeks.
“We know it isn’t enough, but it is what it is. Everyone suffered this situation, personally and economically, and we have to adapt," he told journalists.
“They are training well, but I don’t know exactly their condition. Yes [I’m concerned about the injury risk],” he added.
“We are ready to play one game, but three days after another and four days after another...we are not ready.
“We have to rotate and use all the players. The players are in naturally good physical condition."
In a bid to guard against increased injury occurrences, a temporary law change has been introduced allowing teams to make a maximum of five substitutions.
It’s hoped allowing five rather than three substitutions will help reduce the risk of injury to players being asked to play matches in a condensed period of time during the summer months.
There are concerns that the new law could see teams use the extra substitutions to time waste, but teams will be limited to to three opportunities during matches to make changes, plus half-time.
Still, there is no doubt that the rule change suits the league’s bigger clubs with larger squads to pick from.
Wolves have used a total of 20 players this season, the fewest in the league, while Leicester City and Burnley have both used 21.
The dilemma for managers like Nuno Espirito Santo and Brendan Rodgers will be whether to place extra strain on those players, or shift some responsibility away from them towards fringe members of the squad.
Three of the four clubs who voted against the law change were West Ham, Aston Villa and Bournemouth, clubs at the foot of the table working with smaller squads to clubs at the other end of the table.
There is no doubt the introduction of more subs will favour the favourites as clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United, who have used 28 players this season, are given more flexibility with using their deep talent pools.
Fertile ground for young talent
One of the more positive consequences of the new normal could be more playing time for young English players.
The Bundesliga has always had a reputation for giving youth a chance and the coronavirus pandemic has not curbed that trend.
Last weekend 17-year-old Florian Wirtz entered the record books by becoming the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history.
With the remaining 92 games of the season to be played in a condensed period of time during the hot summer months, Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson expects to see academy prospects tested
“In the next nine games, for teams that don’t feel themselves terribly threatened by relegation or teams that are already quite comfortable, I think it’s going to be a good opportunity to see what there is behind the first team,” Hodgson told BT Sport in an exclusive interview ahead of the Premier League restart.
“Players that we haven’t dared to risk in the quest to achieve our goal, we might put some of those players in now and it will be interesting to see how they fare.
“But I think it’s forced us to look a little bit more at the young players we’ve got.
“I’ve brought a quite a few up to train with the first-team squad and you realise that there’s more wealth in our talent pool than we sometimes give ourselves credit for.
“Why go out and spend a lot of money to help or foreign club when you’d be much better served helping your own club by finding a solution to a problem in your squad with one of your own young players.”
With all remaining 92 fixtures set to be played behind closed doors, teams around Germany have been experimenting with novel ways of replicating atmosphere inside the stadium.
All games broadcast by BT Sport viewers will have artificial crowd noise laid over the top of matches after it was successfully implemented during coverage of Bayer Leverkusen vs Bayern Munich.
The technology has been well received so far, with BT Sport anchor Gary Lineker tweeting: "Watching the Bundesliga on BT Sport and the manufactured crowd noise is definitely better than the eerie silence that comes with behind closed doors football. Helps the commentators too, I reckon. Not like the real thing, of course, but better."
How the absence of fans will affect players in England remains to be seen but German clubs are already lamenting the lack of support within the stadium.
“You shoot at the goal, make a top pass, a goal – and nothing happens,” said Dortmund head coach, Lucien Favre. “It's very, very strange. We really miss our fans.”
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