Premier League coronavirus camp would make Sheffield United’s European bid tougher - but still possible

Plans to finish the Premier League season with “World Cup-style” camps played behind closed doors in the summer would take away one of Sheffield United’s big advantages in the push for European qualification, but at least it could give manager Chris Wilder the chance to complete the campaign.

There is a groundswell of support within the English game for finishing the 2019-20 season despite the huge complications thrown up by the coronavirus outbreak. The top division’s 20 clubs are expected to meet via conference call on Friday to try to formulate plans, but discussions are constantly ongoing.

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According to reports, one suggestion floated is that the teams be gathered in the Midlands and London in June and July if circumstances allow to play a series of behind-closed-doors games.

Sheffield United's John Lundstram in action for Wolves' Ryben Neves, the Midlanders being one of the Blades' key rivals for European qualification. Picture: Bradley Collyer/PA

The Blades are fighting to secure European football for the first time, with Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal their nearest rivals.

Depending on the status of a possible Manchester City appeal against a ban from UEFA’s cup competitions, coming top of that group could bring a fifth-placed finish and Champions League qualification.

Three points behind the Gunners, Everton were in the sort of form before the break that raised their qualification hopes, while fourth-placed Chelsea are five points ahead of Wilder’s team with a game in hand.

Wolves, Spurs, Everton and Chelsea are still due to play at Bramall Lane, while the Blades have an away fixture at Manchester United outstanding. Completing the season at a neutral venue would take away their home advantage, but for the season to finish, some compromises will be needed.

Sheffield United's George Baldock (left) and Tottenham Hotspur's Ben Davies battle for the ball, with the two still to play at Bramall Lane as both teams chase European qualification. Picture: Bradley Collyer/PA

Before the hiatus, Wilder was opposed to playing behind closed doors but he has come round to the view that: “We have to finish the season, however long it takes.”

Defender Chris Basham said last week: “I think the league needs to be finished but we can’t have games behind doors if fans will show up in numbers around the stadium with no police and ambulance etc. I don’t know how it’d work but we’d love to play the games no matter how.”

A camp would allow a “TV mega-event”, so fans could stay at home and watch a handful of matches every day. That would give broadcasters the matches they have paid huge sums for, and it has been suggested the Government likes the idea of morale-boosting entertainment for the country, especially if it is still in lockdown.

To allow that, clubs and their staffs would be confined in separate hotels away from their families with full testing and quarantine conditions. The same would have to be true of broadcasters working in the stadia.

One difficulty would be justifying having medical staff on standby at a time when hospitals are stretched by covid-19. Much may depend on the scale of the virus at that point.

Dragging the season into July would not be without its complications either. Players’ contracts usually run until June 30.

In an interview with La Republicca over the weekend, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin suggested the season “will probably be lost” if the pandemic prevents football from resuming by the end of June, which will only increase the Premier League’s determination to be up and running by then.

Last week’s decision to void the non-league seasons below the sixth tier caused huge controversy and could lead to legal challenges – assuming, of course, those clubs can afford it.

So many matches in a short period of time will favour clubs with bigger squads, such as Manchester United, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton, but the Blades’ fitness levels have allowed them to make light of the shortfall so far this season. They and Arsenal have 10 league games still to play, whereas the rest have nine.

It is not a perfect solution, but no perfect solutions are available. If the logistical problems can be overcome, it might be the best on offer.