<
>

Premier League to return on June 17 after 100-day break amid coronavirus

play
Premier League to return on June 17 (2:19)

Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United and Man City vs. Arsenal will be the first games back as Prem returns. (2:19)

The Premier League is set to return on June 17 after the clubs gave "Project Restart" the green light at a shareholders' meeting on Thursday.

Four teams have 10 fixtures remaining, and so to bring them in line with the rest of the League, Manchester City versus Arsenal and Aston Villa against Sheffield United will be the first fixtures played.

- Stream new episodes of ESPN FC 7 days a week on ESPN+
- Stream every episode of 30 for 30: Soccer Stories on ESPN+
- ESPN's Insider Notebook: Utd want Werner, Coutinho's cost

The remaining 90 games will then begin from Friday, June 19, with every match shown live on television, no two games played at the same time across a weekend and all matches televised in the U.K.

The league is hoping to be finished to allow the FA Cup final to take place on Aug. 1, with the semifinals on July 18-19. The FA Cup quarterfinals will take place over the weekend of June 27.

All dates are provisional, subject to the appropriate safety measures being put in place and other issues being finalised, but it marks the biggest step yet toward the return of competitive football in England.

There are several issues still to be addressed despite representatives of the 20 clubs having discussed details of a return to action for several hours.

Sources have told ESPN that it is possible high-profile fixtures could still be played at neutral venues because of fears that crowds could gather outside stadiums as the nationwide lockdown eases and the warm weather continues.

It has also been suggested that Liverpool may have to play their remaining home games -- against Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Burnley and Chelsea -- away from Anfield. Jurgen Klopp's side are 25 points clear at the top of the table and require just two wins to secure the club's first League title in 30 years.

No final decision was taken, with clubs expected to vote on outstanding issues at the next shareholders' meeting on June 4, including placings being decided on an unweighted points-per-game basis if the season is curtailed.

There is also hope that broadcasters will agree on a reduction in the television rebate from the current £340m suggested if all matches are completed by the beginning of August.

The willingness to stagger matches for television -- midweek rounds will be played on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday -- can be attributed to a desire to minimise the rebate, given there will be some weeks where games are on every night.

The Saturday 3 p.m. blackout -- the tradition whereby no matches in England are televised at that time -- will be relaxed. It was introduced to help maintain fans' attendance at matches instead of watching on the television but with games taking place behind closed doors, the measure was deemed unnecessary.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said: "Today we have provisionally agreed to resume the Premier League on Wednesday, 17 June. But this date cannot be confirmed until we have met all the safety requirements needed, as the health and welfare of all participants and supporters is our priority.

"Sadly, matches will have to take place without fans in stadiums, so we are pleased to have come up with a positive solution for supporters to be able to watch all the remaining 92 matches. The Premier League and our clubs are proud to have incredibly passionate and loyal supporters. It is important to ensure as many people as possible can watch the matches at home. We will continue to work step-by-step and in consultation with all our stakeholders as we move towards resuming the 2019-20 season."

The league has also approved the use of five substitutes in all matches to help reduce the risk of injury given the quick frequency of matches ahead.

Clubs have also discussed the possibility of staging friendlies at training grounds with teams in close proximity, minimising travel and therefore any further spread of the coronavirus.

Several clubs have reportedly expressed a desire for four more weeks' preparation, having only approved contact training in a vote on Wednesday, but the league's desire to resume sooner in addition to pressure from UEFA to complete domestic matches by the beginning of August forced a compromise.

The Premier League was suspended on March 13 with the last game -- Leicester's 4-0 win over Aston Villa -- being played on March 9.

A total of 100 days will have passed by the time matches resume behind closed doors, with opposition from players now subsiding after three rounds of tests totalling 2,752 people yielded just 12 positive cases.

Testing capacity will be increased this week from 50 to 60 per club, with anyone testing positive for COVID-19 asked to self-isolate for seven days.

The Premier League's return will still need government approval, with culture secretary Oliver Dowden sounding a note of caution on Twitter.

He wrote: "Positive to see further steps on the return of football today. I've been pushing for as many games as possible to be free to view & for the return of the top league to support the whole football family.

"We are still working on government guidance before we green light sports' return."