Premier League clubs have returned to training this week, with small-group sessions having been given the green light to take place from Tuesday onwards.
Players from all 20 top-flight teams have been back on the grass to varying degrees, although this ‘phase one’ of the return to training protocol is strictly of the non-contact variety and subject to social distancing measures.
We round up what has been happening up and down the country this week as the so-called Project Restart steps up a gear.
RETURNING FROM INJURY
There were a few familiar faces who we haven’t seen in a while who were spotted back in training this week.
Marcus Rashford (£8.8m) was pictured at Carrington, having not kicked a ball since sustaining a back injury in January.
Harry Kane (£10.8m), Steven Bergwijn (£7.4m) and Son Heung-min (£9.7m) have all been stepping up their comebacks at Hotspur Way, with Son having previously carried out mandatory military service in his native South Korea.
Kane has been out the longest of the three, having tore his hamstring on New Year’s Day.
Tammy Abraham (£7.5m), Callum Hudson-Odoi (£5.2m), Christian Pulisic (£6.9m) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (£6.3m) were among the Chelsea players who were previously injured or lacking in match-fitness who were spotted at Cobham on Tuesday, meanwhile.
Hudson-Odoi had been the first Premier League player to test positive for COVID-19 back in March but has made a full recovery, as has Mikel Arteta, whose similarly early diagnosis acted as a catalyst in the suspension of play.
The Arsenal boss and left-back Kieran Tierney (£5.3m), who has yet to feature under his new manager because of a shoulder injury, were involved in training at London Colney this week.
Alisson (£6.2m) was being put through the paces at Melwood as Jurgen Klopp gave his squad a clean bill of health, while Jay Rodriguez (£5.7m), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (£5.9m) and Matt Lowton (£4.2m) are back in contention at Burnley after spells on the sidelines.
Ashley Barnes (£6.1m) is not yet up to speed after double hernia surgery in January, however.
Troy Deeney (£6.2m) will also not be returning to training for the time being, with the Watford striker citing concerns about the welfare of his young son.
Earlier in the week, 748 players and club staff were tested for coronavirus, with six results coming back positive.
Adrian Mariappa (£4.2m) and two other Watford employees were revealed to be among that number, along with Burnley coach Ian Woan.
Hornets boss Nigel Pearson said on Friday that his defender “looks exceptionally well and feels very well himself” despite the diagnosis.
Further testing took place across the 20 Premier League clubs on Friday, with the results from this second round of tests expected back on Saturday or Sunday.
WHEN WILL THE SEASON RESUME?
That’s the million (or should that be billion) dollar question and one we have yet to be provided with an answer.
Interviewed by BBC Sport on Friday, the Chief Executive of the Premier League, Richard Masters, was asked when top-flight football would resume.
In response, Masters said:
We had a staging post in mid-June but we have to be flexible. We are able to discuss at least next week the possibility of going to contact training and then after that, it’s about how much contact training is required – and that really gives you a start date. So we have to be flexible.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said on Wednesday that the government sign-off on a return to contact training could come “very shortly”.
EARLY DOUBLE GAMEWEEK?
In another interview days earlier, Masters had said that the four clubs with ten fixtures remaining – namely Manchester City, Arsenal, Sheffield United and Aston Villa – could have their outstanding matches played soon after the restart in order to level the playing field.
The Premier League’s head honcho said:
It is a relatively normal occurrence for, at this stage of the season, there to be displaced matches that have to be played.
But I think it is a good idea to prioritise games that have to be played first relatively early in the schedule.
While it’s still just at the “good idea” stage and we have no idea how Fantasy Premier League plan to accommodate the other 90 remaining fixtures, it could be that we’re in early Double Gameweek territory if and when the top tier of English football resumes.
A vote on phase two of of the return to training protocol will take place early next week, with clubs, players, managers and unions all consulted ahead of it.
UEFA had originally set a deadline of May 25 for its member leagues to inform them of plans to resume their respective domestic seasons, although it’s not clear if the rescheduling of the European governing body’s next executive committee meeting (which has moved from May 27 to June 17) will give the Premier League a bit of breathing space in that regard.