With the news that the Premier League is set to return on June 17, James Bagby looks at the impact of Covid-19 on the beautiful game and what there is left to play for this season.
Premier League fans around the world rejoiced on Thursday after the announcement that Project Restart was given the green light, meaning that the top tier of English football is back. On Wednesday 17th June, Manchester City will resume at home to Arsenal and Sheffield United will travel to Aston Villa. The Premier League intends to show every single one of the remaining games on TV, so with plenty of football to watch, here are the top three things to look out for and get excited about when the top division kicks off again.
The impact of the virus
The return of football in such exceptional circumstances will bring the biggest changes to the game ever seen. No fans in the stadium will be the biggest adjustment to watching the game but, how will it affect the teams? In the Bundesliga, which is now back in full swing, we have seen the home advantage nearly completely wiped out, with the number of away wins increasing significantly. In the Premier League, we are likely to see the additional step of neutral venues. Will this further the trend seen in Germany and which teams will suffer? Teams with good home records like Leicester and Sheffield United may struggle while teams like Southampton, who have picked up nearly 60% of their points away from home, could prosper.
Several players have been outspoken against the decision to resume football already. Both Danny Rose and Troy Deeney have been vocal in their opposition, with Deeney deciding to stay away from the first week of Watford training. Players will be tested extensively once the League resumes and while there has been success in Germany around the results of these tests, it will be interesting to see if the opinions of more players change if players start testing positive.
With player safety being the number one priority and low match fitness for everyone, will there be a change to the quality and style of football that we watch? Another look at the Bundesliga suggests not. Matches have produced wonderful technical displays, especially the Der Klassiker between Dortmund and Bayern, and play has still been as physical as before the break. It seems to suggest as long as you have high quality players on the pitch, the football will still be high quality, regardless of the circumstances.
The battle for Champions League and survival
The race for the Champions League places was building up to a climax just as football went into hibernation. Leicester’s poor run of form before the break dragged them back into the race leaving two spots still up for grabs. Behind them, Chelsea, Man United, Wolves, Sheffield United, Tottenham and maybe even Arsenal are pushing for a place in Europe’s elite competition. Can Frank Lampard and his youth revolution make the cut? Will Solskjaer be able to dispel his doubters and take United back to the top? Could Sheffield United complete one of the greatest underdog stories of all time?
Coronavirus has brought huge levels of uncertainty to the football pyramid. More than ever a place in the Premier League, and the money that comes with it, is incredibly important. With a quarter of the season left to go, the safety of six teams is still uncertain. Brighton, West Ham, Watford, Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich will all be looking for that late season push that would guarantee them another year in Europe’s most financially lucrative league.
Liverpool’s title and breaking more records
The winner of English football’s top prize has not been in doubt for a long time now. Liverpool are set to overcome the weight of history to bring the title back to Merseyside for the first time in thirty years. The disruption won’t matter for fans of the Reds, but the lifting of the trophy in an empty and potentially neutral venue is likely to come as an anti-climax. It will be intriguing to see how the rest of the country views the celebrations and whether Liverpool’s outstanding performance will live in the shadow of the virus when the 2019/20 season is revisited.
Liverpool still have more records to break before the end of the season. Their shock defeat away at Watford robbed them of an invincible year, but they still have the chance to break the record Premier League points tally. The Reds require 19 points from a possible 27 to break Manchester City’s record of 100, which looks like a very realistic probability. With the possibility that Liverpool could break records for the most wins as well as the highest points totals home and away, it’s hard to imagine Jurgen Klopp allowing his players to take the foot off the gas.