It’s a contact sport and it’s back to the pitch 

ByShaunak Ghosh

Jun 12, 2020

Ahead of the return of the English Premier League on June 17 after the Covid-19 break, Patriot analyses what the remainder of the season promises

There has been no action in the English top-flight since early March, with all sporting events put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the Premier League is now gearing up to return, with all 20 clubs welcoming their squads back to full contact training and setting a date for its resumption.

‘Project Restart’ was initially planned for June 12, but clubs voted on Wednesday, June 17 for the season to resume – subject to meeting all safety requirements. Aston Villa will host Sheffield United on the date, while Manchester City will welcome Arsenal.

These are both rearranged games, and will mean all 20 clubs have played 29 matches heading into the weekend of June 19-21, when the rest of the top-flight will be in action once again. Players have been back in training since May. Initially strict social distancing guidelines were in place, but clubs have since reintroduced contact training. There are 92 matches still to be played in total and all games will be held behind closed doors

Sheffield United have been the surprise package // Photo: Facebook

End of the wait

It is almost certain that Liverpool is marching towards a first league title in 30 years and is an incredible 25 points clear. But when will they be confirmed as Premier League champions? And who might have to give them a guard of honour?

They are 25 points clear, with 30 available to Manchester City, so it means Liverpool needs 6 points from 9 games, and the quickest way to do that is with two victories.

Liverpool play Everton (away), Crystal Palace (home), Manchester City (away) and Aston Villa (home) in their next four matches.

If both Liverpool and Man City win all their upcoming fixtures then the Reds will be named champions on Wednesday, June 24 at home to Crystal Palace.

The guard of honour would then come at champions Manchester City on Thursday, July 2.

The earliest the title could mathematically be confirmed is on Saturday, June 20.

For this to happen, Manchester City would have to lose at home to Arsenal on June 17, and Liverpool could then win the league at Everton with a win.

If Liverpool do win the title at Goodison, they would get a guard of honour from Crystal Palace on June 24.

Then the earliest the title could mathematically be confirmed is Monday, June 22.

This can happen in three ways.

If Liverpool lose at Everton, City would need to lose at home to Arsenal and Burnley.

If Liverpool draw at Everton, City would need to pick up no more than a point from the two games.

If Liverpool beat Everton, City would need to gain no more than three points for their fixtures.

In this scenario, they would still get the guard of honour from the Palace on June 24.

Mourinho’s arrival has not improved Tottenham’s form // Photo: Getty

Citizens topsy turvy season

Manchester City’s season has been nothing short of a bit off colour for the calibre they possess. It’s a season that has already yielded two pieces of silverware in the shape of the Community Shield and Carabao Cup.

And it has also been one that has seen a number of youngsters step up to make their first team bows

In the Premier League from our 28 games to dates, Pep Guardiola’s side has racked up 68 goals from their 18 victories, the most by any side in the topflight, even greater than Liverpool

That averages out at 2.43 goals per game with City having accumulated 542 shots in total in the league.

However, it is at the back that City have been struggling, having let in 31 goals in 28 games, which has contributed to their staggering seven losses and 3 draws. All of their centre backs have suffered injuries at some point of time, with key man Aymeric Laporte having suffered a serious injury.

The departure of Vincent Kompany in the summer also proved to be quite a loss for the Blues as they not only lost an able defensive force, but a leader on the pitch as well. Even their full backs haven’t been in the best of form.

Kevin De Bruyne – who has enjoyed a magnificent season – leads the way in terms of league assists, having accumulated an incredible 17 so far this term.The Belgian is also out on his own in terms of shots for the season, having fired in 76 so far. He has been their best player, and some would argue the force that has kept Manchester City still at second place.

However, the biggest setback for the Citizens this season has been their ban from the next two seasons of the Champions League owing to some financial frauds. So, in spite of where they finish this season, European football next season is still a distant dream.

Bruno Fernandes has been responsible for man Utd’s turnaround // Photo: Twitter

Race for Europe

With City being out of the European picture next season, the team who finishes fifth will also qualify for the Champions League, and this the race for European qualification is the thing to look forward to the most.

From the 4th place to the 8th there is a miniscule eight-point difference with almost all teams engaged in a neck to neck battle. Anyone can now qualify in these four places.

Third placed Leicester City look to have a comfortable grasp on the 3rd place but their form has seen a massive decline since the start of 2020. They have lost more matches this year, than they have in the first five months in the league.

Now, they have a strong chance to clinch a European place, and with the league starting afresh they have had time to think. Under the stewardship of Brendan Rogers, they might be able to clinch the Champions League position. With 53 points and 5 points above 4th placed Chlesea, they are in a very comfortable position, unless they slip up big time.

Talking about Chelsea, they are at 4th place with 48 points, with a paltry 3 points ahead of the team behind them. The Blues have had a topsy turvy first season under their new manager, club legend Frank Lampard. With a transfer ban imposed on them, they couldn’t bring in new players in the summer, but Lampard worked magic with their youngsters like Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount.

The games remaining for the Blues are also difficult with fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester City along the way. Their form had also dipped before the league went into the Covid break. Chelsea have a strong team, but the one factor that makes them uncertain is their lack of experience. In this crunch battle for the European places, Chelsea need to continue their good run of form, and in all probability the fourth place is theirs for the taking if they don’t slip up.

Next comes Manchester United in 5th place. The Red Devils are just three points behind Chelsea and two points ahead of both 6th and 7th places. Ever since the start of the season, Ole Gunner Solksjaer had been put under the radar for his continuous disappointing performances right up until December. Since January, after the arrival of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon, the Red Devils have looked a different outfit altogether.

Liverpool have all but guaranteed their first league win // Photo: Getty

They have been unbeaten in their last 11 games, with nine of them ending in clean sheets. Fernandes has been instrumental in controlling the midfield, and now with the return of Paul Pogba after a long layoff from an ankle injury, the fans will get to see one of the best midfield duos for the first time. United are looking extremely strong, and may even limp past Chelsea in the points table. Their fixtures, barring one against Tottenham, are all with relatively easier oppositions. So, their chances to go into the Champions League seems  pretty fair at this point of time.

Sheffield United, who recently gained promotion this season, topped all expectations and now lie in 7th place, just three points behind United and locked in same points with Wolverhampton on 6th place. They have been the best defence in the league after Liverpool letting in just 25 goals in 28 games. In fact, they have a high chance of qualifying for next year’s Europa League if they maintain their solid form since the league shut down.

Lampard has done exceedingly well for Chelsea this season // Photo: Getty

The disappointments

The two major disappointments of the season have been both Tottenham and Arsenal. Arsenal. especially, have looked lacklustre throughout the season having won just 9 of their 28 games. Most of their games have ended in stalemates, and they lacked the attacking intent having scored 40 goals and their weak defense letting in 36 goals. They now stand at 9th place.

With the arrival of Mikel Arteta as manager mid-season, they have seen an improvement in their game. In his time, the gunners have lost just two of their 15 games in all competitions. However, with a 5 point gap with Manchester united and tough games against Chelsea and Manchester City ahead, they have their work cut out. They  need to score more goals, and a break is just what they needed to renew their energy.

Same goes for last year’s Champions League runners up, Tottenham who have had a torrid season so far. They were at one point of time this season near the relegation places, but somehow clawed their way back up to 8th place. They have let in a massive 40 goals this season and in spite of scoring 47 goals, it has been their weak defence which has made them suffer. In fact, they brought in Jose Mourinho as manager in place of Mauricio Pochettino, but this also hasn’t worked in their favour. In fact, the way they have performed this season, it is fair to say that they don’t even deserve to seek a European place.

(Cover: Kevin de Bruyne has been the star of the man city team // Photo: Facebook)