The English Premier League makes its return tonight after the season was suspended in mid-March because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
And so it resumes…
Tonight, Aston Villa and Sheffield United will stride out at Villa Park to try to re-ignite the Premier League football season.
At 6pm, two of the oldest clubs in England will kick off Part Two of Season 2019-20 under stringent restrictions in an empty stadium.
Coming in will be more substitutes (five from nine players available), drinks breaks midway through each half, balls placed at strategic positions around the pitch to keep the game going if the match ball goes in the stands, and although clubs can use music at key moments, there will be no automated crowd noise in the stadium. Instead, fans watching from home can choose to select EA Sports Atmospheric Audio.
Goal scorers can rush to a designated TV camera – yes, really – to perform their socially-distanced celebratory routines.
Villa v The Blades is the appetiser for the night’s heavyweight contest at the Etihad (8.15pm) where Manchester City need to beat Arsenal to keep alive their forlorn pursuit of Liverpool at the top of the table.
But don’t put your mortgage on a home win.
What in March would have been a foregone conclusion now has an element of doubt because of figures from Germany’s Bundesliga where, since their resumption, only 20% of games have been won by home teams as opposed to 43% before lockdown.
Which is not a particularly good omen for Tottenham, who remain hopeful of European football next season and welcome Manchester United to north London on Friday (8.15pm) – five of their remaining nine games are at home.
As it is, Liverpool, who resume at Merseyside rivals Everton on Sunday (7pm), need two wins to take the title, with Leicester and Chelsea favourites to join them in the Champions League. Any one of Man Utd, Wolves and Sheffield United could complete the Champions League qualification places, dependent on Man City’s CL ban being upheld.
However, it is at the other end where things are likely to get interesting. Bottom of the table Norwich could be joined in the Championship next season by any two from Villa, Bournemouth, Watford, West Ham or Brighton, who are only separated by four points. It remains to be seen if a three-month break can alter Villa or Brighton’s fortunes.
Let the games begin…