The Premier League, intent on finishing the season and not owing three-quarters of a billion pounds in broadcasting rights, continues floating trial balloons to see which ideas might be feasible and acceptable. The latest idea—playing all matches in 8-10 designated “neutral venues”—is a curious one.
According to The Mirror, the EPL reportedly has concerns about the safety of playing matches at older stadiums that are centrally located within cities. Although Anfield’s main stand is recently renovated (and glorious), the fact that it is in an urban environment would seem to eliminate it from the possible list. Goodison, obviously, would be omitted on multiple counts.
Instead, the league wants to opt for stadiums like Manchester City’s Ethihad Stadium (bonus points for TV audiences being used to empty seats there), Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium, and Brighton’s AMEX Stadium.
It is a bit odd, to say the least, but those are the times we’re in. Although there might be concerns over certain stadiums, especially older ones with tighter, more confined walkways, it seems that having two teams travel to a neutral site is not as safe as one team traveling for an away fixture.
The neutral sites, especially outside of city centers, also makes some sort of sense in order to dissuade fans from congregating outside of stadiums. While proper messaging and policing should be enough, this would remove that option entirely.
On the other hand, playing at home—even an empty one—would likely confer at least a slim psychological (or even physiological) advantage. It could call the integrity of the competition into question, especially in the cases where one team finishes just below another, having only played them away and at a neutral site.
This one issue alone highlights just how much thought and care must be put into each decision from here on out. Simply: there are no easy answers.
Even if we could wave a magic wand and return everything to pre-corona times, there would still be an advantage gained for teams who were able to rest or recover when they wouldn’t have otherwise. Liverpool, for instance, will get a big boost with the return of a fully fit Alisson in goal.
Playing the rest of the season behind closed doors—whether at neutral venues or not—will be fundamentally different than playing in front of boisterous crowds, and will come with advantages and disadvantages for various sides.
There are no easy answers. There are no perfect answers. But hopefully we can answer enough of the logistical questions in order to play football in a relatively safely manner.