What do we know about the Premiership schedule?

The Hearts v Hibernian Scottish Cup semi-final from last season is to be played this term
The Hearts v Hibernian Scottish Cup semi-final from last season is to be played this term

After three months of votes, controversy and disputes, the new season is looming on the horizon with the Premiership fixtures to be released at 09:00 BST on Monday.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up all sorts of scheduling issues for the SPFL, with the winter break scrapped in a bid to accommodate all of next season's fixtures.

Here, BBC Scotland examines what we know about how next season will look.

The task

Where do we start? As well as the usual jam-packed schedule, we've got to fit in delayed international and European fixtures, last season's Scottish Cup semi-finals and final, and the group stages of this season's League Cup later than planned.

The SPFL has described the strain on fixtures as "enormous", with just one spare week to play any postponed games before the split. In other words, we need to hope for a warm and dry Scottish winter...

How are they fitting them all in?

With some difficulty, is the short answer. Some clubs face playing up to four games in the space of eight days, though if everything goes smoothly then this will be avoided.

SPFL secretary Iain Blair told BBC Scotland last week that we will likely see Premiership fixtures on European nights, which leagues usually abstain from doing under instruction from Uefa.

However, European football's governing body is sympathetic to the current congestion, referring to the "calendar hardship" imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether they allow league games up against European matches to be televised - which becomes more crucial when fans cannot attend - is another matter. They usually insist any televised league game ends at least 15 minutes before a Champions League or Europa League tie kicks off.

Will the Old Firm games be delayed?

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has spokenexternal-link about the potential for the Old Firm derbies with Rangers to be pushed back and played when fans are allowed back into stadiums.

As much as many may like the idea, Blair confirmed this was never an option due to tight scheduling, plus other factors which need to be considered when plotting these games into the calendar.

Kristoffer Ajer and Joe Aribo
Rangers are set to host Celtic on 2 January

What we do know is the first derby will take place between round two and round 11 of the Premiership, and another will be on or around 2 January at Ibrox in order to mark the 50th anniversary of the Ibrox stadium disaster.

The third and final pre-split match could be any time before round 34.

What about Hearts' legal challenge?

Dundee United will be the team on the fixture list after their promotion from the Championship, despite Hearts' legal action to have themselves reinstated in the top flight in United's place.

The case will now proceed to arbitration, and if the outcome ends up altering who is in the Premiership then the fixtures will be changed to suit. Though it would not be as simple as swapping the names on the list due to the different factors - like policing - that affect scheduling.

And the cups?

It's expected that all teams will participate in next season's League Cup, despite it being optional. It will start during the first international break in early October, with teams competing in Europe - Celtic, Rangers, Motherwell and Aberdeen - given the usual bye to the last 16.

Any teams who lose players to international duty for the group stage - Hearts' Craig Gordon or Steven Naismith may be examples - will just have to grin and bear it. The semi-finals and final will be pushed back to next year, rather than the cup finishing before Christmas.

As for the Scottish Cup, the plan is to finish last season's semi-finals and final before the end of 2020. Scrapping replays from the fourth round onwards is being considered, while the final for next season is pencilled in for 8 May.

That's before the end of the league campaign, because Hampden has to be readied to host European Championship matches in early June.

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