The Premier League is about to restart and millions of football fans worldwide will be able to enjoy an action-packed schedule which should see the league conclude before the UEFA-mandated deadline of August 2nd.
In this piece, I take a look at when exactly do the games start and where they are going to be played.
The project to reboot the most-watched domestic competition in Europe endured a few rocky moments along the way but it seems that both the league’s governing body and the UK government are now in full agreement on how to proceed.
Let’s kick this off with a brief overview of what’s to come and then I share my opinion on where the key battles in the table will be and how they may pan out.
When Do the Games Start and Where Will They Be Played?
If you haven’t followed the latest developments, you will be happy to know that a couple of games are scheduled to be played as early as this Wednesday.
Tomorrow’s program includes an early bout between Aston Villa and Chris Wilder’s high-flying Sheffield United. As soon as this game finishes, we will be treated to the main event of the day as Manchester City welcome Mikel Arteta’s rejuvenated Arsenal squad.
Both games promise to be highly entertaining, especially after we’ve been starved of EPL fixtures for over three months.
The big question is: Where will the games be played?
Project Restart’s initial idea was to stage the games on neutral venues but the league received a lot of fair criticism for this and finally got the nod from the government to let the clubs play on their usual grounds.
There are a few backup ideas, but as things stand, all games should be played on the normal grounds and I for one am extremely happy about that decision.
Playing on neutral grounds would’ve created a lot of scrutiny and there is no way to conclude the league fairly, so the agreed format is one of the most positive things to happen since the idea to restart the competition was born.
Let us now turn our attention to where the key battles will be for the remainder of the season.
Who Will Win the Title?
This one is not hard to answer. With 10 games still left to be played, Liverpool leads Manchester City by no less than 25 points.
It is almost impossible for the Reds to blow it this time and even if Manchester City starts off with a winning pace, Liverpool only need to win two matches to wrap up the title mathematically.
In fact, they have a chance to do it as early as Monday if Arsenal manages to beat City and Klopp’s men topple Everton in the upcoming Merseyside derby.
Who Will Qualify for the UEFA Tournaments?
There will be a lot more drama and twists in the fight for the European places.
Manchester City will lose almost certainly lose the title and have been hit with a UEFA ban that may throw them out of the Champions League for the next two seasons. This is still not enforced as City understandably appealed the decision and are now waiting for CAS to announce their fate in July.
If the ban is upheld, this means that the 5th-placed team will be going to the CL next year.
This is great news for lesser teams like Sheffield United and Wolverhampton who have been playing magnificently and are right in the thick of the fight.
It will also be music to the ears of struggling bigs like Arsenal, Manchester United, and Tottenham who still have a lot of work to do in order to clinch a spot.
Lampard’s young Chelsea team is in a far better position and a good start from them may see them push Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City for the third spot.
It will be great to see either Sheffield United and Wolves clinch a CL place but I believe their resources may not be enough now that the fixtures will be much more congested.
Leicester should be fine and I believe Frank Lampard has found the right balance between youth and experience to get a Champions League qualification.
Out of the other candidates, I feel Arsenal have the biggest chance as the arrival of Mikel Arteta has completely transformed the vibe around the club in a very positive way.
The Gunners will still have a lot of problems in defense but Arteta looks capable of improving the team there, even if he is not able to get the right personnel at the moment.
I won’t be surprised if Tottenham and Manchester United sink further after the restart, since there are a lot of issues at both clubs.
Jose Mourinho has a very unsettled group to work with, while Solkskajer has to figure out how to keep players like Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial happy and playing in their preferred positions.
Who Will Be Fighting to Survive?
Beating the drop will be the biggest priority for at least five teams.
Southampton looks to be somewhat safe in 14th position with 35 points. However, the clubs below them will probably be battling right down to the wire.
Norwich is currently rock bottom with 21 points and despite their offensive firepower with Teemu Pukki at the forefront, they have allowed a lot of poor defensive performances and are almost certain to go back to the Championship once the season is concluded.
The same goes for Aston Villa, as they will need to find someone to convert the chances they create and be much more stable when defending. Their current tally of 25 points is worrying but a good result against Sheffield United tomorrow can definitely breathe some confidence in this group.
Next up are Bournemouth, West Ham, and Watford, who are all on 27 points.
The spotlight will definitely be on David Moyes and his attempts to rescue West Ham from relegation, as this is also the most expensive squad to be involved in the fight for beating the drop.
I think they will be okay in the end as they do have enough quality and Moyes is very experienced, however, I fear that Bournemouth and Watford have run out of steam a bit.
These two clubs have been great competitors at the top level for several years now but the energy around them has evaporated this season and they will need to be in top shape for the remainder of the campaign if they want to avoid dropping down.
Brighton is also in the mix but I feel they will be on the right end of the relegation zone come August.
The club’s tally of 29 points is decent and even though they can certainly improve in every area, I firmly believe that the recruitment they made was better than that of their competitors and there were signs that the new additions are beginning to find their feet in the league before the hiatus.
Conclusion and Final Words
Whatever happens, I think we can all agree that the return of the Premier League is a huge step forward in normalizing the sports world after the lockdown. Let’s hope there aren’t many injuries with the congested schedule so we can enjoy the remainder of the season and see how the league will shape up going forward.