Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes the long-awaited return of fans to stadiums in England will happen without any major issues.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that stadiums in tier 1 areas of England will be able to welcome up to 4,000 fans when the national lockdown ends on December 2. Grounds in tier 2 areas be allowed to hold up to 2,000 people, but those in tier 3 areas will remain closed to the public.
Guardiola does not envisage any major problems if Manchester City are able to open their gates at the Etihad to supporters for the first time since March.
“If they believe this is the best, we can do it, hopefully it will work and nothing wrong will happen. Everyone is [waiting] for fans to come back into stadiums,” he said ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League fixture against Olympiacos.
“If the government have decided this it is because they have listened to the scientists and the doctors for what is the best for everyone.
“We are a lucky profession for the fact we can do our job. How many jobs are closed and will not reopen again? We are waiting to come back for our fans.”
Sergio Aguero was on the bench during the 2-0 loss to Tottenham after recovering from a hamstring injury but did not get on the field.
After the Argentinian underwent knee surgery in the summer, Guardiola is wary of rushing him back too soon.
He said: “Today he trained again. What we want is for him to feel a good feeling in his knee.
“We wait for him and there is still time. We have many, many games to play and we will need him. We want him in the best condition.”
Guardiola added that left-back Benjamin Mendy is back in contention after injury and midfielder Fernandinho has recovered from gastroenteritis.
Defender Nathan Ake is still out with a thigh injury but should return to training on Friday.
City are chasing a fourth-successive win in the competition which would secure a place in the last 16.
Guardiola, whose side were beaten by Tottenham at the weekend, said: “It is important for our qualification and also to recover our feelings. To be able to win games is important.
“We can leave this competition until February and focus on other competitions, especially the Premier League.”
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson has welcomed the announcement that spectators will be permitted to return to stadiums next month, but has warned that clubs may struggle to allocate the limited number of available tickets.
Speaking after Palace’s 1-0 defeat to Burnley at an empty Turf Moor on Monday night, Hodgson said: “It’s very positive.
“It’s going to be very tough for the secretaries of the clubs, working out how they’re going to allocate the tickets. There isn’t going to be enormous numbers back in at the start, but there will be enormous numbers wanting to come back.
“It’s still a very positive step and I’m very grateful we are moving in that direction. Hopefully it’s the first step in getting the fans back in the stadiums for real and in the numbers that usually attend the games.”
EFL fixtures could be delayed to allow fans back in
The EFL will attempt to move its December 1 fixture schedule back a day in order to take advantage of the decision to allow fans back into grounds.
EFL chairman Rick Parry says the decision is a “lifeline” for lower-league clubs and will now try to move some of next Tuesday’s matches to Wednesday in order to get fans in as quickly as possible.
“We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement because clearly we’ve been pushing for the return of fans for some considerable time,” Parry told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.
“We have to build upon it because what we are really looking forward to is getting fans back in more substantial numbers but this is a really welcome start.
“At League One and League Two level it could be very significant. It’s not just the money it’s a very welcome return to an atmosphere, and if we get 4,000 at League Two level it would be very welcome. It can be a very welcome lifeline.”
‘We’ll be worse off if fans return’
While Hodgson, the FA and others have reacted warmly to the news that fans will soon be back in stadiums, Tranmere chairman Mark Palios believes his club could be ‘worse off’.
He told Sky Sports News: “Larger clubs in League One – gate income is massively important – a lot of them will have already taken season tickets up to a certain number of fans. Therefore they will be the first fans that will be allowed into the game.
“Also with us at the moment for example, we would be tier 3 when we come out of the lockdown – we certainly were going into it – that would mean we would have no fans at all coming in.
“If you just come down the tiers to 2,000 fans [tier 2], our season tickets are 3,000. So actually cash-wise we are probably worse off because if we have fans in the ground, I know the costs would be about £10,000 to open up.
“We’d have all the gates open for social distancing, and all the turnstiles on. As a consequence of that, we wouldn’t get anymore cash and we’d have to spend £10,000 a match.
‘No restrictions on fans singing’
Cambridge United chief executive Ian Mather says there will be no restrictions on fan behaviour as long as they are sat in allocated bubbles.
The League Two club staged a test event against Carlisle in September and Mather said there were no problems with fans.
“When people book tickets, we will put them into bubbles. They will have to sit in those bubbles. We’re aiming to do our first game on December 2 against Mansfield.
“If they are in bubbles, they can kiss, hug and jump up and down as much as they want if we score. We did this before and there were concerns about fans misbehaving and although we won handsomely [3-0], everyone really did behave.”