The Football Association has told the Premier League clubs that the season must be settled by “sporting merit”, potentially splitting the six bottom clubs over how to finish the season.

It means that issues like relegation or the title must be settled by either playing the remaining fixtures, or a formula like points-per-game.

Voiding the season remains completely off the table.

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The announcement came at the very start of Monday’s crunch videoconference, and immediately took some of the expected tension out of the meeting. The Independent has been told that the FA’s hand was forced by the amount of politicking over ‘Project Restart’ in the last few weeks, and felt the need to act.

The governing body’s board came to unanimous agreement on the decision.

It effectively means it is now in the interest of the bottom three clubs – Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich City – to play the remaining fixtures, regardless of the conditions, as they would be almost certain to be relegated in the event of a mathematical formula being used. That is not the case for those above, and means the bottom six could be split.

That group of clubs had recently been unified in their opposition to playing in neutral grounds, even though that had been a non-negotiable government condition on getting back playing. It led to suspicion among some figures in the game that the bottom six were playing for time, especially since Uefa have set a 25 May deadline for decisions on how to complete the league.

The FA announcement has negated that and ensured there are now only two possibilities: play out the season, or settle it in another manner.

Such suspicions had meant many expected a fractious videoconference, but the decision took much tension away.

The meeting also went on to discuss proposals on player contracts that end on 30 June 2020, as well as player safety and logistics in the event of playing behind closed doors.

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