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. Here’s part 5 of our Premier League restart preview looking at Chelsea and Crystal Palace ...
First game back: Aston Villa v Chelsea
Last time out, fourth-placed Chelsea afforded a warm welcome to former coach Carlo Ancelotti who guided the Londoners to title success, then laughed heartily at him when his new Everton side were torn apart 4-0 at The Bridge. Fans, eh? The Blues will resume their campaign against struggling Villa where another thrashing is expected but they have been inconsistent during their last nine Premier League games having picked up just three wins.
They’ve been missing the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Pulisic but the break has given the pair time to get back to full fitness — not that they’ll get much time to shine in the Champions League; Chelsea have a 3-0 deficit to turn around in the second leg against Bayern Munich, meaning they’re as good as gone. But they have made it to the FA Cup quarter-finals and will be doing their best to keep Man Utd off their coattails in the race for fourth. That shouldn’t be too hard — but we’re all really hoping they’re both pipped to the post by Sheffield Utd.
First game back: Bournemouth v Crystal Palace
Palace need new blood. They have the oldest average starting 11 in the Premier League and at times this season, it has showed. They have seven first-team players who are aged 30 or older (Gary Cahill — their best defender — turns 35 in December …) and at 27, talismanic attacker Wilfried Zaha is in the peak years of his career and may push for a move away like he did last summer.
If that happens, Palace will be in dire straits and a rebuilding job will be required at Selhurst Park — but will manager Roy Hodgson be there to oversee it? He’s the oldest boss in the league and although he has signed a new deal and has every intention to stay in the job, the Eagles may look to a younger manager with a different philosophy in the hope to change their fortunes around. Liverpool, Leicester, Man Utd, Chelsea and Spurs are all to play and although they shouldn’t be dragged into the relegation dogfight, it could well be pretty close …