Football

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce: EPL players’ fitness a worry

Magpies manager Bruce airs uneasiness about mid-June league restart

The list of English Premier League managers and players concerned about a June 12 restart to the league campaign is growing, with Steve Bruce worried about players' fitness.

The EPL has been suspended since March 13 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a targeted return in the middle of next month has been mooted.

Newcastle United manager Bruce, however, conceded there are concerns from managers over how quickly players are expected to regain full fitness.

"We need enough preparation time to get these players into shape or they are just going to fall down like a pack of cards," Bruce told The Telegraph.

"Most of the managers have the same concerns. We would need at least six weeks. I don't see how we can play games until the back end of June."

Juergen Klopp, whose Liverpool side are just two wins from winning the EPL title, eased pressure on his troops as he does not expect players to be at their best.

"We don't have to be at our all-time best, we have to be at our best possible," the Daily Express quoted Klopp as saying.

Watford captain Troy Deeney and West Ham United skipper Mark Noble have been among a group of players to speak out, with Chelsea attacker Willian saying that most of the EPL players are not ready to return to action in the current climate.

"We really miss playing and doing what we love, but it needs to be safe for us to do so. Our health has to come first," Willian told Brazilian outlet globoesporte.

"So, right now, players don't feel comfortable returning until it's totally safe to do so."

VOTING TODAY

The EPL will hope to move a step closer to Project Restart today, when clubs vote on a return to group training.

Should at least 14 of the 20 clubs agree that safety protocols are sufficient, players are likely to return to a limited first phase of group training tomorrow.

But there has to be clear guidelines. Wayne Rooney, captain of Championship side Derby County, remains puzzled about how social distancing measures feature in football.

"Our government says people can return to work but only with social distancing in the workplace, and that does not work in football," Rooney said in his Sunday Times column.

"So I don't get it. Until the government gives the green light to have physical contact, we can't train or prepare properly."

It was a point also highlighted by Deeney during a video conference between the EPL and the 20 top-flight captains.

Deeney questioned how players can implement social distancing when there are 18 men challenging in a penalty area, before adding that he won't be putting his family's safety at risk by returning to action.

Rooney added: "I understand where Troy and the others are coming from. The concern is not so much whether you might pick up an injury, but more about bringing coronavirus home and infecting those around us. People's lives are at risk."

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard defended players' reservations and demanded improved communication.

Lampard told Sky Sports: "We have to upgrade that communication, so players know what they're going through and then they can make those decisions."

Despite the reservations, former Liverpool star Danny Murphy feels the EPL can take the cue from the Bundesliga, which resumed over the weekend.

"The EPL is in a good place now to watch and learn from the German games. I don't see any reason not to step up training now in anticipation that it could be us fairly soon," he said in his Sunday Mail column.

"Provided the proper testing is there, a restart is doable."

However, there remains a need to make sure that proper testing and equipment are available for medical staff first.

The UK's doctors' union has told the Telegraph that the EPL should not be using personal protective equipment, until shortages blamed for the deaths of healthcare workers are resolved.

Football