Stoke City have been handed a big boost in their hopes of a return to action to finish 2019/20.
The Premier League will re-start on June 17, more than three months since the competition was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic – although the plan is still subject to Government approval.
Two games in hand – Aston Villa v Sheffield United and Manchester City v Arsenal – will kick-off a football bonanza with a full fixture list to be played on the weekend of June 19-21.
It will be the first English top flight game to take place in June since Stoke’s title decider against Sheffield United on June 14, 1947.
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There are 92 matches to fit in and all will be broadcast live, via Sky Sports, BT Sport, BBC Sport and Amazon Prime.
The BBC claims “a few high-profile games” will be played at neutral venues at the request of the police but the vast majority will take place home or away as initially scheduled.
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.”
Matches will kick-off at either 8pm on a Friday or Monday; 12.30pm, 3pm, 5.30pm or 8pm on a Saturday or 12pm, 2pm, 4.30pm and 7pm on a Sunday.
Matches on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays will start at either 6pm or 8pm.
Clubs have today entered phase two of their return to training – allowing contact training, albeit in small groups. Phase three will involve a further step towards normal training.
Players and staff are being tested twice-weekly for COVID-19 and so far 12 people have been positive from 2,752 tests. Anyone positive must self-isolate for seven days.
The Championship is hoping to follow in the Premier League’s wake and return on June 20, following the same fixture list as originally planned. That would mean Stoke start back with a trip to Reading.
The break in play has given a chance for captain Ryan Shawcross and key man James McClean return to full fitness.
Stoke signed off with a 5-1 thumping of Hull City to move three points above the relegation zone, up to 17th – their highest position of the season to date.
Three positive cases have been confirmed across the division today, from two clubs – with Blackburn Rovers revealing that includes their asymptomatic captain Elliott Bennett.
Bennett told the Rovers website: “I feel fit and healthy.
“Hopefully this sends out a positive message to the community that perhaps many people have or have had the virus without showing any effects.
“I obviously would never have known if we hadn’t returned to training and taken the tests, because I don’t feel unwell and have got no symptoms whatsoever.
“There seems to have been a lot of hysteria about footballers returning to training, but it’s not a big deal at all. It’s the people who are seriously ill in hospital that we need to worry about, not footballers who are fit and healthy, and who aren’t showing any signs of being unwell.”
Fulham have also confirmed two of their players tested positive.
A club statement said: “After the second round of league-wide testing for COVID-19 completed by Fulham FC players and staff this week at the Club’s training facility, we can confirm that two players have tested positive for Coronavirus.
“Both players, who shall remain unnamed due to medical confidentiality, are now self-isolating in line with league and government guidance.”