Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on Tuesday expressed incredulity at potential 2,000 limits on crowds at Premier League grounds as he launched a fresh attack on the Government's handling of the pandemic.
The Premier League champions, Everton, the London clubs, Southampton and Brighton appear to have the best chances of having limited crowds back when the Prime Minister confirms his new tiered system to replace lockdown.
However, Klopp suggested he did not think the plan had been "thought through" as he also dismissed claims of unfair advantages for the clubs who get fans in.
All clubs in the top tier are expected to welcome back fans where possible, despite some estimating they will still lose millions in revenue for every home match.
Even smaller top-tier teams like Brighton are expecting a £1 million-plus dent in their finances for every home match, even if they are allowed 4,000 back at the Amex for their Dec 5 match against Southampton.
Thursday's announcement from the Government on which regions face the toughest restrictions from Dec 2 is likely to create significant disparity on which clubs can immediately reopen their turnstiles.
The likes of West Brom, Leicester City and Burnley have significantly less favourable Covid-19 R-rates following lockdown, but Klopp shrugged off the suggestion first mooted by Gary Neville that this would give teams with fans an edge.
Telegraph analysis shows home fans make just a marginal difference in results even with full crowds. Since lockdown, wins for home teams have fallen by less than three percentage points.
"I don’t think it’s unfair, it’s just the situation," Klopp said. "It’s the world at the moment and we cannot change these kinds of things.” Liverpool would appear most likely to fall into tier two, which would see a limit of 2,000 fans. Only tier one areas will be allowed 4,000 from Dec 2. However, the German, who saw fans return in bigger numbers in the Bundesliga in September, questioned the logic behind the Government's numbers.
"The problem I have at the moment is that I struggle to put faith in any kind of announcement," Klopp added. "And I don’t understand why we would now have 2,000 people in a stadium of 60,000 people, and 2,000 people in a stadium of 9,000 people. But I’m not surprised that it is not finally thought through, to be honest."
The Premier League club with the best chance of earning tier one status appears to be Brighton, which on Tuesday had a weekly infection rate of 103 per 100,000 compared to 177 the previous week. Paul Barber, the club's chief executive, said all teams can write off the prospect of turning a profit. “We’re going to be contributing to our already very significant losses," he said. Additional Covid protocols at most clubs have cost in excess of £100,000, too, but clubs says it is impossible to put an exact figure on overall match-day operating costs.
On a normal match day against Southampton, Barber says, "we'd be looking at generating well in excess of a seven-figure revenue sum". "The reality is we are going to be losing more money by bringing 2 or even 4,000 fans back than probably having an empty stadium, but psychologically it's really important for us to take the first step," he added.
However, Barber, who opposed playing at neutral venues during Project Restart talks, also agreed with Klopp's point that having fans in such small numbers will make no real difference to results. "In terms of competition fairness, I don’t think that 2,000 or 4,000 fans is going to be the difference, massively, between winning or losing games," he said. "I think we all accept that it’s going to add to the atmosphere, which is good for all of us."
Almost all clubs will carry out ballots to determine who gets tickets and will follow Premier League guidelines on crowd safety. A document is set to be issued by the competition after the Government releases its own new rules later this week.
All clubs contacted by The Telegraph on Tuesday expressed hopes of getting fans back despite the costs involved. The Premier League had previously turned its back on the pilot scheme, but is hopeful that the current rules will lead to trials in excess of 10,000 by the end of January at the latest.
Manchester City and United are both hopeful of getting fans in as "a necessary first step". United's Champions League tie against PSG could be one of the first matches with supporters back. The club already believes it has a bio secure environment for fans and believe they could safely house as many as 23,500 fans - about 32 per cent of capacity - with social distancing.
However, there is recognition at the club that this is a necessary and important first step towards the return of fans and hope they are going to be in a position soon to see supporters coming back through their doors.
Everton, meanwhile, have put contingency plans in place for at least 2,000 fans returning by announcing a ballot process for season-ticket holders and seasonal hospitality members for home fixtures, beginning with the visit of Chelsea on December 12.