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Soccer

The Nevilles quiz: How well do you know Gary, Phil and Tracey?

They’ve been around English sport for almost three decades, but our quiz will tell you how well you really know the Neville siblings…

Manchester United, Everton, Valencia and England Women – plus Sky Sports, of course – the Neville brothers have been a mainstay in the footballing world since the Class of ’92.

They joined sister Tracey, former head coach and player with England’s netball team, for a special Off Script which you can watch here – but first, give our quiz a go and see how much you know about one of English sport’s most famous families!

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Soccer

Timothy Fosu-Mensah: Manchester United trigger one-year contract extension

Manchester United have triggered the extra-year option on Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s contract, keeping him at Old Trafford for at least another 12 months.

The Dutch defender’s deal was due to run out at the end of the current season but United have moved to extend his contract.

Fosu-Mensah, 22, has not appeared in the first team since the final game of the 2016/17 campaign but his extension follows similar decisions taken by Manchester United in the cases of Eric Bailly and Nemanja Matic.

The defender’s spent time on loan at Crystal Palace and also Fulham where he sustained a serious knee injury that has kept him out of football for almost a year.

More to follow…

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Soccer

How major football leagues across Europe are plotting a return

The Bundesliga will start again behind closed doors NEXT MONTH, LaLiga might have to wait until July, in Italy players are refusing to go back to training, while France has been focused on a wage cut… how major leagues across Europe are plotting a return amid the coronavirus crisis

  • Leagues across Europe have been suspended amid the coronavirus crisis 
  • There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel in a number of countries 
  • Sportsmail’s experts have explained how each major league is plotting a return 

It is not just in England that coronavirus has hit football. In leagues around Europe, games have not been played for weeks as the pandemic spreads across the continent.

But there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel in a number of nations and plans are being put in place to bring the action back. Those vary in detail and design from country to country.

Sportsmail has asked experts from across Europe to explain how their leagues are plotting a return… 

In leagues around Europe, games have not been played for weeks due to the coronavirus crisis

Almost all Bundesliga clubs returned to training this week, with strict social distancing regulations in place to limit the risk of on-pitch infection.

Players have been forced to change on their own, before training in small groups with tackling and close contact strictly forbidden.

Yet with Germany’s tight restrictions on public life in place until April 19, a return to full-scale matches still seems a long way off.

The German Football League (DFL) is set to convene again on April 17 and assess the current plan to resume the season at the beginning of May. With the financial survival of many clubs in the balance, the DFL is keen to finish the season by June 30 so as to guarantee income from TV rights.

Almost all clubs in Germany returned to training this week with strict rules in place

Some had mooted the idea of a mini-tournament held in one or two stadiums, but the current plan is to hold games on the usual weekly basis from the first or second weekend in May.

The games would be held behind closed doors, with only around 250 people allowed into the stadium.

Initially outraged by the idea of so-called ‘ghost games’, most fans are now resigned to the fact that they will not be allowed back into stadiums for months after the league resumes. Borussia Moenchengladbach supporters are even planning to produce tens of thousands of personalised cardboard cut-outs to replace the real supporters.

Yet amid criticism from medical professionals, the May restart is far from a foregone conclusion.

Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland involved in a training session recently

Proposals to test each player every few days once the games get back underway have been met with outrage by doctors who point out that German labs are already approaching their testing capacities.

Once the football does resume, it is increasingly likely that the dogmas of the traditional Bundesliga calendar will be scrapped.

Legendary Bayern and Dortmund coach Ottmar Hitzfeld called this week to temporarily get rid of the summer and winter break after the coronavirus crisis.

‘We can play through the winter like the English do, I don’t see a problem there,’ he said.

There is an expectation that games will return without fans allowed into the stadiums

SPAIN – PETE JENSON

LaLiga have drawn up a special ‘back to training’ protocol for clubs with a view to bringing the competition back at the end of May. 

The protocol has been drafted by medical teams from three league clubs and has been distributed to the 42 teams in the top two divisions. 

The idea is that training will be reintroduced gradually with the number of players allowed to train together incrementing day by day until entire squads can train as one group. 

There will be tests every so often for the players to ensure no one contracts coronavirus. Clubs have also been advised to select hotels where they could be based in isolation during the mini pre-seasons that will take place before the restart. 

LaLiga are drawing up plans for how players can return to training amid the current crisis

Spain is still in full-lockdown but the state of emergency should be lifted on April 26. 

La Liga says talks with Uefa have thrown up three possible restart dates – May 28, with the domestic competition being played through June and European competition through July; June 6 with La Liga and European competition played simultaneously; and June 28 with domestic leagues played out in July and European games played in August. 

La Liga is also willing to restart ahead of other leagues if it finds itself in a situation where it could do that. 

Javier Tebas has said that there will be a £131m hole in accounts because of what has been lost

Financially, president Javier Tebas has said that even if the season is played out in front of supporters there will still be a €150m (£131m) hole in revenue because of what has already been lost. 

If remaining games are played behind closed doors then the damage will run to €300m (£262m). 

On the bright side he says around 90 per cent of television money for this season has already been received. It would however need to be repaid if the season cannot finish. 

ITALY – ALVISE CAGNAZZO 

In Italy we are uncertain about the future of clubs and the return to normality in Serie A. Some teams do not intend to return to play and many players have chosen not to train even if the club wants them to come back to the training ground. 

In Serie A, the battle for pay cuts seems to have no respite. Juventus reached an agreement to save about €90m in wages: Ronaldo chose to give up €10m, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala for €3.5m, Douglas Costa and Miralem Pjanic for about €2.5m. 

The problem is that this choice has not been shared by other clubs. Some are yet to announce that all players have accepted wage cuts.

At Lazio, president Claudio Lotito wants to return to the playing field as soon as possible, challenging all the rules of health and safety. The Formello training center is the largest in Italy and enjoys extraordinary security measures. 

There has been a battle over wages in Italy but Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus agreed to cuts

The club has experts in the field of sanitation and has demanded that all teams return to training – like German clubs.

Juventus, on the other hand, are determined to finish the Serie A season but only when the contagion curve has a greater drop, falling below 100 new cases per day. 

They want certain guarantees and have not yet called back the players who have returned to their homeland – Ronaldo, Sami Khedira, Pjanic, Douglas Costa, Danilo. 

The problem for Juventus is related to the need to have certainties on the resumption of training because all the players who went abroad will have to go through another 15 days of forced quarantine. 

Blaise Matuidi still tested positive for COVID-19 and the club extended his quarantine stay in Turin.

Inter Milan have asked all exiles to return by April 13, including striker Romelu Lukaku

Inter Milan want all their players back in Italy by April 13 – players such as Romelu Lukaku, Christian Eriksen, Diego Godin, Ashley Young, Samir Handanovic and Victor Moses. 

The club believes it can start Serie A again in a short time and has already thought about home training for players who will have to comply with the additional 15-day quarantine.

Brescia, who are owned by the ex-president of Leeds Massimo Cellino, are against the resumption of the competition like most of their players, including Mario Balotelli. 

The former Manchester City star has repeatedly said that he is afraid of infecting his mother, girlfriend or even his daughter. According to Brescia , there are no conditions by which they can end the season. Cellino may refuse to play the last 12 Serie A matches. 

Brescia president Massimo Cellino does not want the season to resume and may refuse to play

In Serie B, the biggest issue is cutting salaries. The association of footballers chaired by Damiano Tommasi, a former Roma player, has asked that the cuts are not compulsory for all players. He wants them to take into account the different salaries.

There is a battle over the percentage of the cuts to be applied. The 30 per cent reduction in wages would ruin entire families because wages are very low in Serie B.

Frosinone, who are third, have clarified that they do not accept any promotion of the top two teams in Serie B. They will battle against Benevento and Crotone in the courts, if needed. 

Mario Balotelli has concerns over the situation and is scared of infecting his family by playing

If Serie A became 22 teams, Frosinone, managed by Alesasndro Nesta, would choose a legal battle to defend their right to play the play-offs.

Below Serie B, the situation is embarrassing because salaries are even lower  and there is the risk of not getting the cuts required by the clubs. 

The problem is also corporate: many teams would think of laying off many employees and this would create a catastrophic economic void. 

Bari are pushing for an innovative idea: to promote all the best teams of the three groups of Serie C and Lega Pro. 

That is a choice that rewards not only the Apulian club but also Reggina.

FRANCE – HARRY SLAVIN 

Unlike the other major leagues across Europe – but similar to the situation in England – there are no concrete talks in France over when football might come back.

Instead, there are constant conversations about how to offset the financial disaster that could take hold there. 

Players in the top two tiers of French football have provisionally agreed to temporary salary cuts in a week where the reality of the coronavirus crisis hit home in Ligue 1.

The likes of Paris Saint-Germain stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe could see their wages for April slashed by 50 per cent as part of a scheme laid out by Philippe Piat – the president of UNFP, the French football players association.

‘We ratified the proposition this morning,’ he told AFP. ‘The idea is that the players defer part of their April salaries to allow the clubs to get by.’ 

France’s players have agreed to a provisional 50 per cent drop in wages for high earners

The scheme is set up to help clubs through the difficult period, after both TV rights holders Canal+ and BeIN Sports froze their payments to Ligue 1 and 2.

The scheme does not affect those players earning less than €10,000 a month however, payments above that are split into tiers, with players earning more than €100,000 a month forgoing half their wages.

The plan is for those salaries to be reimbursed when the broadcasters resume payments, and while the programme is not compulsory, it is thought few will refuse to sign up.

With the area of player wages tackled, there is still concern over how clubs can raise any income in the meantime.

Teams in the top two divisions are currently at odds over a proposal to secure a loan against future TV deals. 

PSG defender Marquinhos training in isolation as the Brazilian bids to keep up his fitness

According to L’Equipe, clubs are discussing the possibility of lending between €300m and €500m against the next rights, struck with Mediapro.

The Spanish broadcaster has secured the Ligue 1 rights for the period between 2020 and 2024 for the total of €780m per annum, but there are complications in using the money as a guarantee – as there is only a letter of commitment as opposed to an actual contract.

However, it is the human cost of the coronavirus that French football has been left to count this week.

The death of Stade de Reims club doctor Bernard Gonzalez sent shockwaves through the game.

The 60-year-old, who was with the club for 20 years, took his own life after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, leaving behind a letter explaining his actions.

The death of Stade de Reims club doctor Bernard Gonzalez sent shockwaves through the game

It was announced on Wednesday, too, that Lorient president Loic Fery had contracted the virus.

It has put the discussions of football returning thoroughly on the backburner, though Reims president Jean-Pierre Caillot has indicated he hopes that top flight could resume in June as normal.

Meanwhile, players are still taking training into their own hands. In a week where they should have been preparing for a Champions League quarter-final, Paris Saint-Germain players are keeping themselves in shape in different corners of the globe.

Neymar is back in Brazil with his family, while Edinson Cavani has made it back to Uruguay, with several other stars dotted around Europe.

Closer to home, the club have set up their own fundraising initiative for local hospitals. PSGengagé has been launched with the club having already raised €315,000 through donations and the sale of their special edition ‘Tous Unis’ tops.




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MLB

Jeff Reinebold breaks down the contract concerns for NFL coaches

Jeff Reinebold admits there is an element of concern among the NFL’s coaching circles in regards to their contracts amid the fight against coronavirus.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has already reshaped the NFL’s offseason, with all team facilities currently closed and travel restricted at a time when scouts and coaches would typically be meeting with draft prospects.

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Teams have also faced difficulties in conducting player physicals during free agency, while those under new head coaches were unable to begin offseason workouts on April 6 as scheduled. As a result, it looks increasingly likely teams with returning head coaches will miss their proposed April 20 start.

Speaking on this week’s Inside the Huddle, Reinebold, who is also Special Teams Coordinator for CFL team Hamilton Tiger Cats, broke down the issues facing NFL coaches at this time.

“It is really amazing. This is so much uncharted territory now,” said Reinebold.

“What’s really interesting is what’s going on with the coaches contracts because there was language in the contracts, there’s a term they use ‘force majeure’ which has to do with ‘acts of god’. Some contracts have that clause in them, some don’t.

“But a number of the contracts that the coaches signed these past offseasons because the clubs had to protect themselves against a walkout or a lockout, there are some things.

“The players are protected by the collective bargaining agreement but there is no coaches union.”

Teams operations remain limited and there is no clear indication of when coaches will be permitted to meet up with their players, some of which they will be meeting for the first time.

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Many coaches have still been busy working remotely as they speak with draft prospects over the phone or via video chat. It’s for the difference in contracts that could see some miss out financially while others do not.

“This is the Packers,” explained Reinebold. “First a salary hold back generally applies if it happens in the offseason, the Packers can elect to hold up to 20 per cent of each pay check’s gross amount, then they must give the coaches 30 days advanced notice if they intend to do this.

“This is the really interesting one. If in fact they go back to work then the hold back for the minus in the salary reduction, some teams will pay the back, some teams won’t.”

He added: “What’s even more interesting is the fact the Packers retain the option to extend the coach’s contract for one year at the current salary level only if the 2020 NFL season in its entirety is not played and that means they have to give you 60 days notice, but then you’re locked in for one more year without them equalling the playing field.

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Soccer

Fantasy Team of the Season: Virgil van Dijk and Kevin De Bruyne lead the points chart

Who makes a Premier League team of the season so far when it comes to Fantasy Football? We’ve rounded up the points to calculate a top XI.

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Dean Henderson – £6.4m: 168 points

Dean Henderson has excelled in his first Premier League season. His loan side Sheffield United have found themselves hunting down a Champions League spot with the second-best defence in the league, behind champions-elect Liverpool.

The English goalkeeper is top of the Fantasy Football goalkeeping charts, with a hefty 168 points. His 10 clean sheets have accounted for 70 of those, but where have his other points come from?

Henderson has reached tier one save bonus points (three or more saves) on 13 occasions this season, while saving two penalties (five points apiece) and earning three man-of-the-match awards, more than any other goalkeeper this year. The Sheffield United No 1 has recorded 26.25 points per £m, more than any other player in the Premier League.

Trent Alexander-Arnold – £9.9m: 199 points

The statistics do the talking once again for Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Englishman has recorded 12 assists, equalling his total of last season already. He is in close competition with Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, which is testament enough considering Alexander-Arnold is a full-back.

Along with 11 clean sheets, the rampant right-back has claimed three man-of-the-match awards and scored two goals. It is hardly surprising to see that 86.5 per cent of the top 1,000 Fantasy Football teams have recruited his services. Alexander-Arnold seems a must-have for success in the game – and it could stay that way for years to come.

Ricardo Pereira – £8.5m: 175 points

Ricardo Pereira is another flying right-back who slots in at centre-back in our XI to accommodate Alexander-Arnold. Do not underestimate the Leicester defender, as he has recorded the most tackles in the Premier league this season with 70. Tackles themselves have made up 22.3 per cent of Pereira’s seasonal total; he has earned tier one tackle bonus (three) on nine occasions and tier two (four or more) another seven times.

On top of 10 clean sheets, the main objective of a defender some would say, Pereira has proven a handful going forward, contributing two goals and three assists, as well as earning three man-of-the-match awards. A steady 18.6 per cent selection rate before his ACL injury tells you how valued he is among Fantasy Football players.

Virgil van Dijk – £10.5m – 210 points

Where do you start with Virgil van Dijk? Could the most expensive defender in the game top the Fantasy Football points chart once again? Van Dijk has reclaimed his throne…for now. A period which saw the Dutchman brag 133 Fantasy points from just 14 matches, including seven consecutive clean sheets, saw him return to the top of the tree.

No other player in the Premier League boasts 12 clean sheets like the 2019 PFA Player of the Year, while no other defender has bettered his four goals for the season either. He has hit a staggering 2182 successful passes, over 500 more than the next in line, Caglar Soyuncu, and has recorded over 70 passes in one game 16 times. The stats further highlight his superiority in defence.

Andy Robertson – £10.2m: 169 points

The main source of Andy Robertson’s Fantasy points have derived from all 11 of Liverpool’s clean sheets, but the Scot has delivered in other aspects of the pitch too.

Alexander-Arnold has taken the plaudits as an attacking force but Robertson has recorded seven assists of his own. Considering he recorded 11 last year, he is not far off repeating that level of consistency with his supply. He has still posted more assists than the likes of Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling.

Riyad Mahrez – £9.9m: 136 points

Riyad Mahrez has perhaps been a frustrating player to monitor or have in your Fantasy Football side at points this year. Despite starting only 15 times due to Pep Guardiola’s rotation policy, the Algerian has registered seven assists and scored seven goals, directly contributing to almost a goal per game.

His substitute appearance (one point) in City’s defeat at Manchester United was enough to see him sneak into the Team of the Season, at Jack Grealish’s expense (135 points). There is no doubt that had Mahrez started more games, he could well have been challenging for the top midfielder spot in Fantasy Football.

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Richarlison – £10.2m: 170 points

Many had their doubts about whether the Brazilian was worth the £10.2m price tag in Fantasy Football. Richarlison has done more than prove those people wrong, picking up 170 points thanks to his 10 goals and five assists. A healthy 40.2 per cent of the top 1,000 Fantasy Football teams have reaped the rewards of having Richarlison in their XI.

Fantasy Football is a game designed to focus largely on upcoming fixtures, which allows players to swap and change their sides accordingly. But the Everton forward has been a consistent threat, scoring against Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Leicester, as well as two goals against Wolves.

Kevin De Bruyne – £11.2m: 200 points

The most expensive midfielder in Fantasy Football is living up to the billing yet again. Not only has Kevin De Bruyne scored eight times this season, but he has also created a staggering 16 goals and is just five away from surpassing Thierry Henry’s record of 20 in a single campaign.

The Belgian, who has earned seven man-of-the-match awards, has been picked by 59.2 per cent of the top 1,000 Fantasy teams. With De Bruyne 30 points clear of Richarlison in the midfield department, could he have his eyes set on surpassing Virgil van Dijk’s total? With hauls such as his 23 against Arsenal or 19 against West Ham, there is no reason why not.

Sadio Mane – £11.5m: 191 points

Sadio Mane always seems to pop up with big goals and he isn’t bad from a Fantasy Football perspective either.

The Liverpool winger has 14 goals and seven assists to his name this campaign, but eight man-of-the-match awards have also come his way. Even still, only 25.11 per cent of Fantasy Football players have recruited the Senegalese international, as he continues to be a prominent point-pulling power in the game.

Jamie Vardy – £10.7m: 188 points

Jamie Vardy continues to notch the goals for Leicester, and currently leads the hunt for the Premier league Golden Boot with 19 goals, two clear of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. With five assists, the Englishman has lead the way again for Brendan Rodgers’ side and was even leading the Fantasy Football points chart at one stage.

He could well have been the outright leader if it wasn’t for the 10 matches before his two goals against Aston Villa, in which he accrued just 16 points. Could he be set up to mount a charge towards the top spot once more when football returns and head towards the 25-goal mark?

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Soccer

Tottenham’s furlough decision ‘stupid’, says Jamie O’Hara

Former Tottenham midfielder Jamie O’Hara has criticised the club’s “stupid decision” to use public money to pay some non-playing staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

The north London side have faced a public backlash after 550 non-playing employees, some of whom have been furloughed, were made to take a 20 per cent wage cut while the players’ salaries currently remain untouched.

Tottenham posted profits of £69m last year and are the eighth richest club in the world with owner Joe Lewis worth an estimated £3.9 billion, leading to disgust from fans over their furlough decision.

An angry O’Hara, who played for Tottenham for six years from 2005, told Sky Sports News: “It’s disappointing from Spurs – they’ve got a billionaire owner.

“I’d understand it if you’d go further down in terms of the leagues and you see teams struggling financially at the moment.

“But for Spurs, they’re a big club, they’re properly-supported and I think they should’ve looked after their staff through a massive part of it.

“If it’s costing them £500,000 a month to look after the staff they’ve got there on full pay, then if this situation lasts for three months you’re talking about £1.5m.

“So is it worth damaging the reputation, which is global, for that sort of money when the club is so profitable?

“It seems a stupid decision to me.”

Spurs have told Sky Sports News they will “continue to review their position” after the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust urged chairman Daniel Levy to follow Liverpool by reversing the decision.

We have been saying consistently @SpursOfficial – pause and rethink. We are now saying it clearly and in public – do not further damage the Club’s reputation, listen to your fans.

Reports have also suggested the club’s senior players are unhappy with the club’s stance, but O’Hara believes they are partly to blame for the situation.

“I’m disappointed in the players,” he added. “They’re the money-earners there.

“Come on now, if you’re a big player at Tottenham you look after your own and for me, it’s the first and foremost thing you should be doing in this situation, so I’m surprised.

“Maybe Daniel Levy is put in a bit of a situation where he’s waiting for the players to take pay cuts, so he’s got to do something and try to save money as he’s a businessman.

“If I was there I’d be asking that question and hopefully some of them are, like Harry Kane and Dele Alli.

“They’re big players at the club and earn a lot of money – they should be looking after the staff.

“Tottenham is not just about the players, it’s about everyone at that football club – the financial team, the corporate side, the marketing, the stewards, the chefs – everything about what makes the club great is all the people that work there, so the players should be the first people to make sure they’re looked after.”

Further problems emerged for Spurs on Tuesday when pictures and video on social media appeared to show some players ignoring coronavirus lockdown guidelines by flouting social distancing rules during part of their workout in a public park.

Tottenham head coach Jose Mourinho was pictured doing a session with midfielder Tanguy Ndombele on Hadley Common.

O’Hara said of the incident: “I’m really surprised at this moment in time, with the scrutiny Spurs are under, that they’ve gone to a park in their Tottenham training kit and have done a session running next to each other.

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Soccer

German football is slipping into dangerous pomposity

As Bayern and Dortmund return to training, German football is losing touch with reality as Bundesliga targets finishing the season by JUNE 30 while the world is scrapping over limited medical resources for Covid-19

  • For days on end, training grounds across Germany lay empty due to coronavirus
  • And then all of a sudden, clubs like Bayern and Dortmund have resumed training
  • However, cracks are now starting to appear and some clubs are left behind
  • While Bayern and Co train, the likes of Werder Bremen are still stuck indoors
  • The DFL are determined to finish the current Bundesliga season by June 30
  • This raised eyebrows and German football is slipping into dangerous pomposity 

For days on end, the manicured lawns at Bayern Munich’s training ground lay empty. Not a ball in sight, not a Qatar Airways-branded tracksuit to be seen. Even the quirky chap who regularly dresses up in full Bayern gear to train alongside his heroes at the edge of the grounds was gone – a victim, like everyone else, to the restraints of life under coronavirus.

And then, all of a sudden, they were back. Only in staggered groups of five and at a safe distance from one another, but back nonetheless. Manuel Neuer with Sven Ulreich; Thomas Muller with Jerome Boateng, David Alaba with Serge Gnabry.

Bayern are not the only ones. While the rest of the sports world remains largely in lockdown, the majority of Bundesliga clubs resumed training this week, albeit under strict regulations. No handshakes, no hugs and, as Borussia Dortmund rushed to assure everyone, ‘no tackling’.

Bayern Munich players have returned to training amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

The media keep a safe distance apart as they watch on as Bayern get back to work 

Erling Haaland and his Borussia Dortmund team-mates have also returned to the pitch

‘It’s better than training alone at home, but it’s nothing like normality,’ said Wolfsburg’s Maxi Arnold. Yet who is to say what is normal anymore? Indeed, as training resumes and the German Football League (DFL) eyes a league restart next month, some are beginning to wonder whether football has lost its marbles.

Until now, the DFL and Germany’s top clubs have handled this crisis rather well. Players have agreed wage cuts without the moralising and melodrama seen in Spain and England, while the top four clubs quickly agreed to provide financial support to struggling rivals. The league, meanwhile, has followed the example of politicians, putting the season on hold for weeks at a time and waiting to see how the situation develops.

Yet the first cracks are now beginning to emerge. At a press conference last week, the DFL outlined their plan to keep the season on hold until April 30, but allow clubs to resume training from April 5. Aside from the obvious health concerns, the timetable has left some clubs feeling disadvantaged.

Under Germany’s federal system, the ultimate decision to allow training or not lies with the regional health authorities. That means that while Bayern, Dortmund and countless others are back on the training pitch, Werder Bremen are still stuck indoors.

Relegation-threatened Werder Bremen are still stuck indoors due to the coronavirus outbreak

For a club like Bremen, who were already hurtling towards relegation when the season was cut short, that feels like a gross injustice. And though the DFL called on clubs to stand together last week, squabbles have already broken out elsewhere over who is training and who isn’t.

Training may yet be the least of the league’s worries. With TV revenues not insured and no billionaire foreign investors to fall back on, around half of Bundesliga clubs are reportedly facing insolvency if the season is cancelled.

Cancellation would be a ‘disaster’ RB Leipzig sporting director Oliver Mintzlaff told Bild this week, warning it would lead to a ‘new, shocking Bundesliga’ with ‘fewer clubs’.

Faced with that unhappy prospect, the DFL are now determined to finish the season by June 30, when the TV contracts enter their next phase. The logic is that, even with no fans and strict medical controls, finishing the campaign is worth it to protect football financially. As league CEO Christian Seifert has repeatedly pointed out, tens of thousands of jobs are on the line.

RB Leipzig’s sporting director claimed cancelling Bundesliga this season would be a ‘disaster’

The DFL are eager to finish the season by June 30 but the plan has raised plenty of eyebrows

Even so, the current plan has raised plenty of eyebrows. To finish by the end of June, the games are reportedly to be played behind closed doors from the first or second weekend of May. That is weeks before what many had thought realistic, and months before events such as Wimbledon and the Olympics, which have already been postponed or cancelled.

When the crisis first hit, supporter association ‘Unsere Kurve’ urged the league to avoid playing behind closed doors, arguing that football could not ‘live in an alternative reality’ while the rest of society shut down. While opinions on so-called ‘ghost games’ have since softened, the latest plan has fed suspicions that football is losing touch with reality.

The DFL’s current plan would not only require approval from all the regional authorities, it would also need an immense medical operation to prevent the virus from rampaging through the playing corps. After all, you can ban hugs and tackling in training sessions, but actual games are another thing entirely.

German football is slipping into dangerous pomposity amid the critical issues the world faces

According to one report, the latest idea is to arrange tests every three days for active players, to ensure that any outbreak is nipped in the bud early on. At a time when the whole world is scrapping over limited medical resources, such suggestions have left many people shaking their heads.

‘We are almost at our limits in terms of lab capacities in Germany,’ virologist Ulf Dittmer told WAZ newspaper. ‘I don’t know which lab would make itself available to test healthy Bundesliga players when we urgently need these tests for people who are seriously ill.’

He has a point, and there are plenty of others who question whether German football, so pragmatic and humble just a few weeks ago, is now slipping into dangerous pomposity.

‘Stop thinking yourselves are so important!’ cried Der Spiegel’s sports correspondent last week. They are words which the DFL might want to heed ahead of their next meeting on April 17. If common sense prevails, there may yet be a revised plan, and those manicured lawns in Munich will be empty once again.




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Alternative Premier League Team of the Season: Tackling XI

On Sky Sports this week, we are discussing the Premier League team of the season – but who would make it into alternative XIs based on certain stats? Today we are looking at the best Tackling XI…

As with each of these alternative XIs, a 4-3-3 formation will be used and players included must have played at least 50 per cent of the season so far.

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  • Alternative TOTS: Running XI
  • Pick your Premier League team of the season
  • Your PL player of the season revealed
  • Your Premier League club’s latest news

Defence

As a position, many of this season’s most persistent tacklers in the Premier League have been right-backs, and it’s Everton’s Djibril Sidibe, who averages the most per 90 minutes of any defender.

Opposite the France international is Wolves’ Jonny, who has recorded the most of any left-back, and both full-backs slot in outside a centre-back pairing of Jonny’s team-mate Willy Boly and Newcastle’s Fabian Schar.

In goal, a grand total of 3 tackles is enough to install Aston Villa’s Tom Heaton as this side’s best option.

Midfield

In midfield comes the Premier League’s king of this category – Leicester’s Wilfried Ndidi. Not only is his 4.4 tackles per 90 minutes the best return of any player this season, but it’s considerably higher than the next best return by a midfielder, Southampton’s Oriol Romeu (3.2 per 90 mins), who accompanies him.

The final spot is then taken by West Ham and England’s Declan Rice, in an especially unaccommodating trio.

Attack

Up front is David McGoldrick – yet to score this season but contributing in plenty of other ways for his high-flying Sheffield United side.

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Soccer

Coronavirus: Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher debate football’s response

Watch Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher as they join Geoff Shreeves for a live debate on football’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Soccer

Sheffield United 2019/20: Five stats you didn’t know

From the impact subs to the record among the best in Europe, we pick out five stats you may not have known about Sheffield United’s 2019/20 season.

  • Who’s your Sheff Utd player of the season?
  • Sheff Utd’s PL season so far – all the match highlights

Road trip rewards

Only Liverpool (1) have lost fewer Premier League away games than Sheffield United’s two this season. In fact, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds are joined only by Serie A side Atalanta (also 1) when it comes to the sides across Europe’s top five leagues to have been beaten on the road fewer times than the Blades so far this campaign.

Keeping it clean

Only Liverpool and Burnley have kept more clean sheets than Sheffield United’s 10 – Manchester City and Leicester have also recorded 10 – but the Blades’ impressively miserly record actually stretches back further. Since the start of last season, they have kept 31 league clean sheets – pipped only by Liverpool (33) and Leeds (32).

Same again

Blades boss Chris Wilder has made only 31 changes to his starting XI in the Premier League this season – fewer than any other side. Jack O’Connell, Enda Stevens, George Baldock, Chris Basham and Oliver Norwood have started all 27 Premier League games, while O’Connell and Baldock have played every minute.

Impact subs

When Wilder has made changes, they have frequently paid off – six goals have been scored by Sheffield United substitutes. That’s a league-high haul, along with Manchester City.

Strike it unlucky

All 38 of Oli McBurnie’s shots have been inside the penalty area – the most by any player that hasn’t had a single shot from outside the box. McBurnie has scored four league goals so far – but has undershot his expected goals of 6.43.

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