By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jun 22, 2020) US Soccer Players – This past weekend felt normal again. Europe's biggest domestic leagues were all in action after a three-month hiatus following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. This new normal for soccer will mean a summer packed with games that matter. Gone are the meaningless friendlies. Instead, the Bundesliga, Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A will all crown champions over the next few weeks. The Champions League will have August to itself to complete the 2019-20 season.
As a result, the European Championship, Copa America, and Olympics were all postponed to next year after domestic club seasons across the globe suspended their seasons. While the pandemic continues, the club season cautiously continues with no fans in stadiums and strict medical protocols in place to protect players. Although countries are slowly opening up, the game's return will be a respite for the millions of Americans who remain stuck at home.
This all means that this summer will, for the first time, feature club games that fans are genuinely interested in watching. Soccer may be back, but it still faces an uphill battle over the coming months after so much lost time this spring and players inactive. Here are five things to watch for this summer.
Which title race to focus on?
Bayern Munich has already clinched the Bundesliga, and Liverpool is on the verge of capturing the Premier League title after building a massive lead at the top of the table. The league to keep an eye on is Serie A. Defending champions Juventus has a one-point lead over Lazio with 12 matchdays left. While Cristiano Ronaldo remains one of the world's best players, the three-month hiatus may have halted Juve's momentum. That means Italy could get a tight title race that goes down to the wire. The game that could decide it all will be played on July 20 when Juventus host Lazio.
What will the remainder of the Champions League look like?
The Champions League paused with some of the Round of 16 in the books. Once that round concludes, the rest of the schedule will finish with a mini-tournament held in Lisbon. It's now a single-elimination tournament starting on August 12 and concluding on the 23. That means a different set of circumstances for the clubs involved. Part of that is the lengthy break for the Bundesliga's Bayern, Borussia Dortmund, and RB Leipzig with no games that count in July. It's an even lengthier break for Ligue 1's PSG and Lyon, with that league not resuming its season. For all involved, it's regrouping for a Champions League-only August.
What about the summer transfer window?
FIFA recently announced a series of exceptions as a result of the pandemic. The summer transfer window was originally due to open in most leagues on July 1 and end on August 31. Instead, the sport's world governing body will let member associations open their transfer windows up to four weeks before the end of the current season. Any player signed during this period, capped at 12 weeks, would not be eligible to play until the start of the 2020-21 season. The Premier League, the most-popular topflight in the world and a favorite of millions of Americans, has said it will not open the window until the end of the season. That's currently scheduled for August 1 with the FA Cup final.
What does this mean for league and club finances?
Capping player pay would help English clubs, particularly Championship sides, already squeezed financially even before the coronavirus. Deloitte, the financial services firm, reported that teams earned record revenue in the past few years, but they spent more on player wages. As a result, clubs rely on promotion to the Premier League or an owner bailout. The virus has also affected the Premier League's coffers. Deloitte's report said the country's top clubs could suffer a combined revenue fall of $1.1 billion this season. With no fans in the stands, limited travel, and summer tours on hold, it will be challenging for teams to recoup these lost revenues.
What about the 2020-21 season?
It's a question Europe's top leagues are grappling with right now. All of Europe's domestic leagues would need to agree on a similar timetable to accommodate the Champions and Europa League games as well as National Team duty. The Premier League's aim, and that of UEFA and the other big five leagues, is to start only a few weeks later than usual so as not to disrupt the 2020-21 campaign as a result of this season's delays. That could mean September 12, about a month later than usual. While clubs have yet to sign off on such a plan, it would mean a short preseason and no vacation time for players. It's just another path to get to normal in a world that has been anything but over the past three months.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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Photo by Hollandse-Hoogte via ZUMA Press