For good or for bad, the Premier League is back. Sure, its return has been questioned comprehensively and the arguments look set to continue in the weeks and months ahead.
Suspended since mid-March due to COVID-19, the season is set to resume on June 17.
However, it will be a pretty different type of football from what we’re used to seeing. For instance, Fifa has allowed leagues to temporarily change their rules to allow five substitutes in an attempt to reduce the risk of injuries while games will be played behind closed doors and with social-distancing rules in place.
There’ll be no crowded streets around the grounds before kick off and all those match day rituals will have to wait. Still, it will allow the 92 remaining games of the 2019-20 campaign to be completed which is music to Liverpool’s ears who are on the verge of being crowned as champions — but there are still plenty of other issues to be resolved with several clubs embroiled in a relegation battle that’ll go down to the wire and others with European qualification in their sights.
There’s plenty more left on the schedule too including some doozies; the Merseyside Derby, the North London Derby and of course Liverpool’s visit to Manchester City. Here’s our Premier League restart preview …
First game back: Tottenham v Manchester United, Friday June 19 (11pm UAE)
I’m not sure what’s bigger — the large gaping holes at the Theatre of Dreams, or those in the current squad. Old Trafford’s leaking roof is symbolic of the current state of affairs at United. This is a club that’s rotten, literally, from the very top. Like that roof, the team needs patching up, urgently. United lack a leader on the pitch and off it. Meek manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer still has his doubters and with the likes of Mauricio Pochettino eager to get back to work, there could well be a change in the summer. However, this ordinary United side still find themselves on the brink of qualifying for the Champions League. They sit fifth in the table, and are just three points away from fourth placed Chelsea. United fighting for, erm, fourth?
Times really have changed. Midfielder Paul Pogba, who has missed 40 matches through injury this season, launched a fund-raising appeal to help fight the coronavirus outbreak on his 27th birthday. “It’s my birthday and I’m always grateful that me, my family and friends are healthy,” he wrote on his official Facebook and Instagram pages. He’ll be on the move when the transfer window opens and there’d be many fans willing to drive him to Real Madrid in his Rolls-Royce …
First game back: Norwich City v Southampton, Friday June 19 (9pm UAE)
Yes, they are rooted at the bottom of the table — but they still have an opportunity to save themselves … Ok, they don’t, because in order to stand any chance of staying up, they’d need to attack every single remaining game as if it was a cup final. Now that could mean plenty of excitement for Canaries fans, but, the last three relegations were pretty pathetic so, yeah, it ain’t gonna happen, especially if manager Daniel Farke does not ditch his ‘safe’ 4-2-3-1 formation. His players have been the whipping boys this season and with nine games to play — including tough fixtures against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City — they are as good as gone.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though as they’re still in the FA Cup and face a dodgy United in the quarter-finals. But even if they win the trophy and, gasp, qualify for the Europa League, star man Teemu Pukki will very likely be plying his trade somewhere else next season.