Premier League circuit-breaker: How would it work in practice and would it be enough?

·4 min read
General view of the winter football with snow - Reuters
General view of the winter football with snow - Reuters

A new Premier League pause is supported by public health experts who say it is "very unlikely" that the match calendar can go uninterrupted by Covid-19 through January.

Dr John Ashton, former Director of Public Health for North-West England, says a splinter group of club executives are right to be exploring the option of a two-week circuit-breaker.

League executives are currently resistant to clubs taking pre-emptive action to put players back into lockdown, but Ashton says the issue may yet be taken out of their hands. "It's very unlikely that matches will be able to continue through January," he told Telegraph Sport.

With pressure increasing on England's top tier after Fulham cancelled their match against Tottenham, here Telegraph Sport explores the practicalities of the "cooling off" idea.  

How extensive would a circuit-breaker need to be?

One option for the clubs would be to stop matches for two weeks, but allow players to continue training. However, public health experts point out that the only guaranteed way to limit spread would be to ask players to stay at home throughout, as they did during the first lockdown in March.

Ashton adds that the one of the biggest current problems caused is by teams moving between tiers to play matches. "Boris Johnson is keen on a wartime metaphor - well the weeks we are entering are the equivalent of the May Blitz in 1941 when the German bombers came every night for weeks," Ashton told Telegraph Sport.

Manchester City suspected an outbreak within its security bubble was suffered during an away trip in London. "I think the problem is how do you respond to the nation's appetite for football," Ashton says. "Clearly when teams are having to move between different levels of tiering, it's bound to be a problem, which is why it makes sense to actually have a pause."

If players are forced to train at home, players will resume the routines they complained about then - solitary runs in the surrounding areas and Zoom classes.

Manchester City's coronavirus outbreak timeline
Manchester City's coronavirus outbreak timeline

When might the pause take place?

Ashton believes efforts would be most effective whenever the most severe national restrictions are launched, but any action in the coming days is impossible.

The Premier League says it "continues to have full confidence in its Covid-19 protocols and being able to continue to play our fixtures as scheduled".

A major hurdle to such a hastily-arranged postponement is the fact the league does not have a plan in place for curtailment of the 2020-21 season.

Last season was completed following a 100-day shutdown, but prior to the season being restarted, the prospect of the table being decided by average points-per-game were discussed.

However, talks between the clubs aimed at drawing up a plan to deal with the prospect of a curtailment for this season only resulted in an agreement on a set of principles which would make ending the season uncompleted an option of last resort.

Brighton and Hove Albion goalkeeper Robert Sanchez fails to stop Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette from scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match - PA
Brighton and Hove Albion goalkeeper Robert Sanchez fails to stop Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette from scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match - PA

Which clubs have most to lose by a pause?

While several clubs in difficult patches have come out in support of a potential pause, the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he "can't see the benefit" given the amount of fixtures that need to be fulfilled by the end of the season.

The likes of Manchester United and City are among the busiest clubs in January as they are still in the EFL cups. Both have seven fixtures crammed into the month.

However, City would face the toughest task of all in rescheduling games as they remain in the Champions League.

What about the English Football League?

With fewer players having international commitments to prepare for at the postponed Euro 2020, clubs in Leagues One and Two appear to be open to extending the season if fixtures continue to be claimed by the virus. The 2019-20 term in Leagues One and Two were curtailed in June this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and Peterborough are among clubs who say they are confident the two divisions can finish.

"We don’t need to go to those headlines again," said chairman Darragh MacAnthony. “I think the season will finish....If we have go to the end of May, so be it. League One and League Two are not going to have many players going to the Euros this summer. So I don’t see why we can’t go an extra two or three weeks if necessary.”