The Premier League has entered unprecedented, uncharted and uncertain territory. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
With elite football in England suspended until at least April 4 due to the coronavirus outbreak, the sport has been left in a state of flux and no-one knows when — or if — the 2019/20 season will resume.
The crisis means fans are now in limbo and unanswered questions will continue to go unanswered (for now at least). Will Liverpool win their first top-flight title for 30 years? Who will get relegated? And will Marcelo Bielsa finally guide Leeds back to the promised land?
There have been suggestions the Premier League should be declared null and void, by West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady no less. Fancy that. This would naturally lead to huge backlash and a knock-on effect that could seriously damage the integrity of the Premier League.
But, there is another top figure who has been making considerable noise, in the form of Brighton chief executive Paul Barber. He has come up with a 22-team blueprint for the top flight that he believes could resolve a number of issues should the season be scrapped due to the Covid-19 virus.
Barber’s somewhat radical plan would mean that no club is relegated from the Premier League this season; there would be a 22-team campaign in 2020/21, with four clubs relegated; and only two clubs would gain promotion from the Championship next term to balance the equilibrium for 2021/22 to allow the top flight to ‘revert back to the current system’.
Of course, such a suggestion seems bonkers on paper, but if things keep up, this may be one of the only viable options. Naturally, we wanted to see how such a scenario would transpire, so obviously we took to Football Manager for the answers…
Between 1992 — the inaugural Premier League season — and 1995 the top-flight was comprised of 22 teams, but that format was eventually amended to the current 20-club system we have today.
If Barber’s proposal were to materialise then we would revert back to the Premier League’s original format. That would mean a 22-team campaign, with two clubs from the Championship making the step up to fill the remaining two slots.
The current top-two in the second tier, Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion, would be those teams, meaning Fulham, Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Preston would all miss out on promotion.
Of course, the restructure is unlikely to sit well with the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, who have both previously voiced concerns about the number of domestic games being played out across a single campaign, with the former even calling for the League Cup to be scrapped to ease fixture congestion.
A 22-team Premier League campaign means four extra games would have to be played, moving from the standard 38 we recognise today to an eye-watering 42 matches.
Certainly fans wouldn’t be opposed to more action, with a number of mouthwatering fixtures on offer, including a West Midlands derby between West Brom and Aston Villa, as well as the Roses rivalry between Leeds and Manchester United.
There would also be a tasty West Yorkshire derby between Leeds and Sheffield United, not to mention the Whites versus Chelsea, which has proven a very feisty and tempestuous affair over the years. And of course the Black Country derby between West Brom and Wolves.
So, let’s get down to business. Who went down? Well, it was a gruelling 42-game campaign, but neither West Brom or Leeds suffered the fateful drop in their maiden campaigns back amongst the elite.
That means four present-day Premier League clubs faced relegation, but interestingly, none of the current bottom three — Norwich, Aston Villa and Bournemouth — were among those to drop down.
In fact, high-flying Sheff Utd finished rock bottom and collected the wooden spoon, while Crystal Palace, West Ham and Southampton were the other unfortunate teams to occupy the relegation spaces.
The two promoted clubs from the Championship were Swansea City and Huddersfield Town, taking the 2021/22 Premier League season back to the current 20-team format, with the latter offering another local derby with Leeds going forward.
There will be a bittersweet feeling for Slaven Bilic as he managed to keep the Baggies in the top flight, while West Ham – who axed him in 2017 – failed to beat the drop.
Meanwhile, Leeds fans will be buoyed that Bielsa masterminded safety in his debut Premier League season, and will (theoretically) soon be able to turn their hopes towards the Argentinean tactician pushing on to restore the club back to the pinnacle of English football.
You’ll also notice a certain Arsenal won the Premier League title under Mikel Arteta, pipping both Manchester City and traditional adversaries Tottenham Hotspur to the crown by just the single point, making the 22-team Premier League season a very fascinating prospect – and perhaps some way off a reflection of reality!