Aston Villa 'ready and keen' to restart Premier League season

Aston Villa players
Aston Villa were thrashed 4-0 at Leicester in what turned out to be the last top-flight game to take place before the competition was shut down

Aston Villa, second bottom in the Premier League, are "ready and keen" to restart the season when it is "right to do so", says boss Dean Smith.

Villa lost their last four league games before the season was stopped amid the coronavirus pandemic and are two points away from safety.

The Midlands side have 10 games to rescue themselves from an immediate return to the Championship.

Smith said it was "tough" as you are "planning for the unplannable".

On 9 March, Villa were thrashed 4-0 at Leicester in what turned out to be the last top-flight game to take place before the competition was shut down.

Smith told BBC Radio 5 live: "I feel when the season eventually begins again it will be a new season for us. I always said our second season would be better and unfortunately a pandemic has hit us.

"When we do restart it will be a second season and we will be better for that."

The Premier League is hopeful of resuming the campaign in the week beginning 8 June, with the aim of it being completed by the end of July, but this would require full training to begin by 18 May.

But a number of top-flight club doctors have raised a range of concerns about the league's restart including own liability and insurance cover if players contract the virus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to deliver an address to the nation on Sunday and map out whether and when the current restrictions will be lifted.

Smith said: "We don't know if the lockdown will be eased, if the social distancing measures will be eased, so you are trying to talk to your staff to plan training sessions for when we are back in terms of how it might look with social distancing, how it might look without social distancing.

"The players are certainly ready and know what is expected of them when we are back at the training ground again."

Clubs have been told playing at neutral venues would be the only way to complete the fixtures and a growing number are open to the idea as long as the threat of relegation is removed.

Brighton have said they are "not in favour" of neutral venues because it could affect the "integrity" of the league, while those near the bottom of the table feel it is unfair to play in such different conditions when they are at risk of going down.

Smith said: "They will have [concerns]. We will have players in our group who have vulnerable family members at home and they are going to have to consider the risks that will be involved. An awful lot of this is going to come down to the protocol of the medical staff."

'Dereliction of duty' if league not planning to restart

The Premier League will need up to 40,000 tests for players and staff if plans to play the 92 outstanding games behind closed doors are pursued.

All clubs remain committed to playing the remaining fixtures of 2019-20 and there was no discussion at last Friday's meeting about voiding the season.

Asked whether Crystal Palace would force a player to play if he did not want to, chairman Steve Parish told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Of course not. We live in a society where no-one can force anyone to do anything and you wouldn't want to do that.

"People need the whole situation explained to them. And if we don't solve it now we're probably going to be in the same situation come August, September, October.

"What we all want to happen is there is a vaccine quicker than everyone thought possible - if not we are looking at a long, long period of not playing and the ramifications for the game are, at best, uncertain in that environment.

"It would be a dereliction of duty if we were not planning to get our business up and running. But absolutely the players safety has to come first, and indeed the staff as well."

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