Football Expert & Columnist
Premier League clubs expected to approve contact training in key vote this week, say Sky Sports pundits
Jamie Redknapp says seeing football played in Bundesliga will encourage Premier League clubs; Gary Neville says some more players may refuse to train
Last Updated: 25/05/20 5:53pm
Premier League clubs will vote to begin contact training this week, believe Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp, after the government released guidance on how that could be done in a controlled way.
Clubs are currently training in socially distant sessions, after previously training alone or at home, but will vote on Wednesday whether to resume contact training.
Key week for the Premier League
Monday: Next twice-weekly round of COVID-19 testing begins, continuing into Tuesday, with results expected on Wednesday.
Tuesday: Premier League will discuss updated government advice on contact training with club captains, managers and representatives from PFA and LMA.
Wednesday: Premier League clubs will vote on whether to resume contact training.
Thursday: Clubs meet again to discuss broader details of Project Restart - including how curtailment of the season would look.
That would be a significant step along the road of Project Restart towards a potential return to matches in June - and Redknapp is also confident clubs will give 'phase two' the green light, after another weekend of football played out in Germany's Bundesliga.
"It's a huge week," Redknapp told The Football Show. "With what's happened in Germany, I've got no doubt the vote will go ahead and the clubs will vote to try to get phase two going, which is obviously important.
"I also think there'll be a situation where more players will opt out, which is their prerogative, but with the success in Germany - it's not been great, it's not the product we really like, with no fans there, but at least it's football - I'll be very surprised if it doesn't go ahead."
As part of the government guidance, which has been put together by public health officials and sports medical officers, sports must provide "carefully controlled medical conditions" - but by doing so, players will be able to tackle, for instance.
Current social distancing rules will still apply during travel to training, equipment sharing will be avoided where possible, and communal areas will mostly be expected to remain closed.
Curtailment still an issue
Premier League clubs will also meet on Thursday this week, where they will discuss broader details of a restart, including contingency talks on how curtailment of the season would look.
While clubs are still hopeful of finishing the season by resuming games next month, Premier League CEO Richard Masters said on Friday that "curtailment is still a possibility".
"I think the clubs will unanimously vote to restart the season in the next few weeks," Sky Sports pundit Neville told The Football Show. However, Redknapp made the point that it makes sense for the Premier League to discuss and plan for a range of possible outcomes to the season.
"Everyone's saying it, the bottom six will be thinking, what's the upside for us? They really will. They'd much prefer null and void but that doesn't seem the scenario right now," he said.
"But every single scenario has to get played out. They have to manage everything because you don't know, if a load of players go down with coronavirus from a couple of teams, you have to then play out that situation of what might happen and what if they can't fulfil the fixtures.
"At least they're doing it and fingers crossed, we can get football back on the menu very soon."
Players continue to have the option of not training if they don't feel comfortable, with Chelsea's N'Golo Kante the most high-profile player currently yet to resume socially distant group sessions.
The Frenchman has the full support of Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard but with Watford captain Troy Deeney also unwilling to train in the current circumstances, a restart could be hindered if more players follow suit.
"I think there will be a few more players who drop out," said Neville. "I don't think it helps that the Premier League are relying on government advice and we are all watching what's going on with the government at this moment in time.
"The Watford situation seems to have the most focus at this moment but Kante missing for Chelsea is an absolutely huge blow for them from a football point of view, but you completely understand it from a personal point of view.
"That situation seems to have been accepted with more compassion than the Watford situation because there is this doubt, this lingering doubt, that the clubs at the bottom are trying to exploit the situation.
"I think relegation will happen and points-per-game will come into play if clubs for any reason can't compete the season."
The answer, as you'd expect, is complex. But there is one underlying consensus: match fitness is almost impossible to reach without competitive games.
Speaking on Monday's The Football Show, former England physio Gary Lewin outlined the complexities of returning to fitness, namely the differences between physical fitness and match fitness.
"The biggest issue they've got is getting them up to speed physically without the group sessions and contact sessions," Lewin said. "Normally in a pre-season, you would start off with a couple of weeks of very light training, close contact rather than full contact, and then building up into contact sessions.
"You work on a player's strength, power, and reaction times, and then you go into contract training and friendlies, slowly building up the competition and intensity over a six to eight-week period.
"The uniqueness of this situation is that they have gone through their physical phase, what you'd call park running in phase one, and then they're going into phase two, where there is still no contact with social distancing, but trying to do some work with the football, and then they're going into full contact.
"They're going to miss out on the general conditioning of falling over, getting up, colliding with players, and that side of the game that you only get with intense training sessions and friendly matches, so there are going to be a few problems."
The Premier League faces its "most crucial week so far" when it comes to a potential restart, with plans to step up training "in the balance," according to the Sunday Supplement panel.
Top-flight players have returned in socially distanced small groups but clubs face a key vote on Wednesday over contact training, subject to government approval.
Will a positive test percentage of 0.45 so far reassure players? How big a factor could the psychological barrier be when it comes to returning to action? And is season curtailment still an option?
Sunday Supplement guests Jason Burt, chief football correspondent at The Telegraph, Shaun Custis, head of sport at The Sun, and The Times' sports writer Alyson Rudd joined Geoff Shreeves to discuss the latest challenges for a return to Premier League action.