After 100 days in the wilderness, the Premier League returns this evening. Like a university romance cut short in its pomp, there is – almost – everything to play for upon the Premier League’s resumption.
It’s been a while, but you won’t have forgotten about Liverpool’s dominance. Jürgen Klopp’s gegenpressing Liverpudlians are on the cusp of delivering the first Premier League title to Anfield.
If Manchester City stumble this weekend, and Liverpool beat Everton in the Merseyside Derby; the Premier League trophy will have been won with eight games to spare.
Liverpool return from their enforced slumber 25 points clear of their Mancunian rivals. It would take a catastrophe for Liverpool to surrender their lead.
Just nine points separate fourth-placed Chelsea and eleventh-placed Palace
Given that the title race was over before Leamington Spa had even turned on its Christmas lights, onlookers should instead avert their attention to the two battles that actually matter: the scramble for European football and the fight against relegation.
With Manchester City’s appeal against their looming UEFA ban still ongoing, the race to secure European football next season has been distorted beyond recognition. If the Citizens are banned from Europe, a fifth-placed finish would be enough to secure Champions League football in 2020/21.
Just nine points separate fourth-placed Chelsea and eleventh-placed Crystal Palace. The 2019/20 campaign hasn’t been about the Big Six, it’s been about the Top Two, the Chasing Pack, and the Relegation Threatened.
With a double gameweek on the horizon, Sheffield United could finish the weekend in fifth position. Though, the Steel City club must find a way to beat Aston Villa and Newcastle United first. Chris Wilder’s Blades have been a joy to watch this season. I don’t know about queuing for the shops, but overlapping central defenders should be the new normal.
Wolves face West Ham, Bournemouth and Aston Villa upon their return
Chelsea and Leicester return from the Covid-19 suspension with one foot in Europe; however, failure to negotiate upcoming fixtures could see both clubs crash out of the top four.
Perhaps the most well-balanced team in the division, Wolves are on course to end the season strongly. Nuno Espírito Santo’s side have all the hallmarks of a team in which the sum is genuinely greater than its parts.
Wolves face West Ham, Bournemouth and Aston Villa upon their return: three wins from three would go a long way to cranking up the pressure on their top-half rivals.
Currently outside of the Champions League reckoning, Arsenal and Tottenham have it all to do after the restart. It will take something spectacular for either North London club to secure Champions League football this season, although Harry Kane’s return will be a boost for Jose Mourinho.
Is United’s resurgence permanent, or yet another false-dawn?
Arsenal restart their campaign with a match against a fully fit Manchester City. With the Gunners currently five points below Manchester United, Mikel Arteta will be hoping for a fruitful return to the Etihad. Arsenal have it all to do.
Manchester United remain the enigma in the running. A powerhouse of world football, United’s post-Fergie decline has been well-documented.
The Old Trafford club had, however, been on an upward trajectory since Bruno Fernandes’ January arrival. Is United’s resurgence permanent, or yet another false-dawn? We can’t be too sure.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side face Tottenham on Friday night. It is a must-win game for both sides.
Burnley, Crystal Palace, Everton, Newcastle United and Southampton might as well pack their bags and head to the beach. With varying degrees of joy, each of the midtable dwellers have done enough avoid a relegation scrap. The prospect of enjoying warm nights on the continent, however, remains a faint dot on the horizon.
The title race was over before it had started. The battle to secure European football is, however, set to rumble on until the end of the season. Rejoice in these simplistic words. The Premier League is back.