Premier League clubs voted unanimously on Wednesday to resume contact training as the English top-flight took a significant step towards a possible restart in June. The Premier League was put on hold in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, with Liverpool agonisingly close to the title.
Clubs returned to training in small and socially distanced groups last week but they have now moved to stage two of the “return to training protocol”.
“Premier League shareholders today voted unanimously to resume contact training, marking another step towards restarting the Premier League season, when safe to do so,” the league said in a statement.
“Squads are now able to train as a group and engage in tackling while minimising any unnecessary close contact.”
It added: “Discussions are ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season when conditions allow.”
The small number of positive tests from the first two rounds of testing at Premier League clubs has raised hopes of a return next month.
Eight cases of coronavirus among players and staff have been detected from 1,744 tests in the Premier League.
In the second-tier Championship, just two positive tests were registered from 1,014 tests.
A targeted return date of June 12 was described by Premier League chief executive Richard Masters last week as a “staging post”.
Players and coaches have argued they will need until at least the end of June to reduce the risk of injuries after such a long lay-off.
Some players have voiced fears over their safety and that of their families due to the virus.
Watford captain Troy Deeney has not returned to training after three positive cases were registered by the Hornets over concerns he could spread the virus to his five-month-old son.
French World Cup winner N’Golo Kante has also been given permission by Chelsea to train at home.
Germany’s Bundesliga has already managed to complete two rounds of fixtures since returning behind closed doors and there has been little player opposition to La Liga’s plans to return in Spain from June 11.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said playing at an empty Anfield and winning the Premier League title with no fans present would be “pretty strange”.
Liverpool was 25 points clear of 2019 champions Manchester City when the league was shut down, on the verge of being crowned English champions for the first time in 30 years.
“Of course it would feel different because if you win any trophy and receive it without any fans there, it would be pretty strange,” he told the BBC.
“We still have work to do and we still need to perform at a high level right the way until the season finishes because we want to finish as strongly as we can to make sure it is a full season,” he added