If the curtain raising of the 2020-21 Premier League season was not already a strange enough affair — with a delayed start, no fans in the stadiums, and the world still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic — the opening set of fixtures have thrown up a clash that will take those of a certain age back to a very different time in English football.
Liverpool versus Leeds United evokes memories of Billy Bremner, Emlyn Hughes, Ian Rush and Jack Charlton. Or more recently, Mark Viduka, Eric Cantona, Steve McManaman and Owen Saunders — it jars somewhat to think Mo Salah against Luke Ayling is a match-up worthy of pre-match debates on a Saturday afternoon.
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It has been so long since Leeds United were last in the Premier League that players have emerged, shot to stardom and retired. But, finally, after 16 years (and a few coronavirus-lockdown-enforced months on top), Leeds are back. After so many failures and tears at Wembley in the Championship play-offs, Marcelo Bielsa led Leeds to the second-tier title, avoiding the need of another trip to Wembley, and they punched their long-awaited ticket to the big time.
Now for the reality check ...
Up first for the new boys is another anachronism — Liverpool the English champions. The last time that happened, Bruce Grobbelaar was in goal and Jan Molby was a first-team regular. Until last season, even Leeds (1991-92) had claimed the title more recently than the Anfield club.
Liverpool claimed a first league title in 30 years, finally getting their hands on the Premier League trophy for the first time. The one that had eluded them while they picked up two more European Cups.
And when Leeds’ collection of relatively unknown players line-up against the Liverpool all-stars, Bielsa’s side will get a very clear reminder of what they are now up against. No more swatting aside weaker Championship opponents. This will be a nine-month scrap for every available point if they are to avoid going agonisingly straight back down, having fought so long to get up.
Jurgen Klopp’s side dominated the Premier League last season, winning by a massive 18-point margin from Manchester City.
While the Yorkshire club have work to do to reestablish themselves in the Premier League, the fixture brings back memories of great clashes between the clubs in the early 1970s when they were among the top teams in the country.
That period included a memorable Charity Shield game in 1974 when Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner were sent off after punches were thrown at Wembley.
Pressing rather than punching is likely to be the order of the day on Saturday and it will be fascinating to see Leeds, with their new Spanish striker Rodrigo, play their high-energy approach against Klopp’s similarly relentlessly attack.
What better way to mark this most surreal time in football than with a surreal match between two champions of English football?
A champions league
This season’s competition will contain the highest number of former league champions for 51 years.
Fifteen clubs in this season’s Premier League have been English top-flight champions in their history. This is the most former winners to compete in an English top-flight season since the same number did so in the 1969-70 campaign.
Two of those former champions, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, meet on Sunday in North London in a match which pits Jose Mourinho against Carlo Ancelotti.
Spurs are searching for the consistency they so lacked last season while Everton have strengthened impressively in the transfer market with James Rodriguez, Brazilian Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure transforming their midfield.
Chelsea, fourth last season, have been the busiest of all in the transfer market and several of their new faces are set to make their debuts in Monday night’s game at Brighton.
Manchester City and Manchester United, second and third last term, both have bye weeks after being involved in European competition in August.
Fulham v Arsenal, 3.30pm
Crystal Palace v Southampton, 6pm
Liverpool v Leeds United, 8.30pm
West Ham United v Newcastle United, 11pm
Burnley v Manchester United — postponed
Manchester City v Aston Villa — postponed
West Brom v Leicester City, 5pm
Tottenham Hotspur v Everton, 7.30pm
Sheffield United v Wolves, 9pm
Brighton v Chelsea, 11.15pm