By Neil Leverett
- Manchester and Arsenal headline Premier League restart on Wednesday night at the Etihad Stadium
- Brighton & Hove Albion host Arsenal on Saturday in first-ever live televised 3pm game in league history
- Liverpool look to edge towards inaugural crown, with top four battle and relegation picture less clear
PREMIER LEAGUE, ENGLAND – With the English top flight resuming on Wednesday evening, the Premier League is set for a helter-skelter ride toward the end of the 2019/20 season in July.
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Since the outbreak of coronavirus in 2020, the order of normal life has changed drastically, not least the almost infinite stream of football across the globe beit in winter, spring, summer or autumn.
As the supply has gradually been restored to drip-feed fans starved of action since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many of Europe’s leagues have now resumed and finally on Wednesday evening – more than three months after it ground to a shuddering and alarming halt – the Premier League returns.
Though resuming under greatly altered and in some instances reduced environments, games behind closed doors are set to become the norm for the latter stages of league competition.
So as Aston Villa and Sheffield United kick-off proceedings at 18:00 on Wednesday and with 92 games remaining of the 2019/20 campaign to come in the following six weeks, what is to come and how will it all work?
The story so far…
Before the referee’s whistle blows however, let’s return to mid-March, where Liverpool were closing in on a first Premier League title – their first league crown in 30 years.
The Reds resume on 82 points at the top of the tree, a mammoth 25 points ahead of reigning champions Manchester City – albeit with a game in hand – needing six points to guarantee a now rather dampened end-of-season party.
With Leicester City and Chelsea holding down the remaining top four spots, a galvanised Manchester United, Wolves and surprise package Sheffield United go in search of Champions League football.
At the other end of the table, just eight points separate the bottom six places, with Norwich City six points from safety but still harbouring hopes of an unlikely survival bid.
Watford find themselves outside the bottom three after Nigel Pearson transformed the Hertfordshire side before a March slump in form, whilst AFC Bournemouth, West Ham United, Aston Villa and Brighton look set for a dogfight to stay up – perhaps at a financially pivotal avenue.
Though the full schedule for the remainder of the campaign is yet to be mapped out, the opening weeks of resumption until 2 July have been added to the calendar. Between Wednesday’s kick-off headliner between Manchester City and Arsenal in some of the more stand-out fixtures, Tottenham Hotspur host Manchester United on 19 June with the Merseyside derby two days later.
Chelsea entertain Manchester City on 25 July, with the Citizens and Liverpool clashing on 2 July – by which time Jurgen Klopp‘s men could have been crowned champions.
Here is the fixture list as it stands up to Thursday 2 July. All times UK BST:
Wednesday 17 June
- Aston Villa vs Sheffield United (6pm) Sky Sports
- Manchester City vs Arsenal (8:15pm) Sky Sports
Friday 19 June
- Norwich City vs Southampton (6pm) Sky Sports
- Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester United (8:15pm) Sky Sports
Saturday 20 June
- Watford vs Leicester City (12.30pm) BT Sport
- Brighton & Hove Albion vs Arsenal (3pm) BT Sport
- West Ham United vs Wolverhampton Wanderers (5.30pm) Sky Sports
- AFC Bournemouth vs Crystal Palace (7.45pm) BBC
Sunday 21 June
- Newcastle United vs Sheffield United (2pm) Sky Sports
- Aston Villa vs Chelsea (4.15pm) Sky Sports
- Everton vs Liverpool (7pm) Sky Sports
Monday 22 June
- Manchester City vs Burnley (8pm) Sky Sports
Tuesday 23 June
- Leicester City vs Brighton & Hove Albion (6pm) Sky Sports
- Tottenham Hotspur vs West Ham United (8.15pm) Sky Sports
Wednesday 24 June
- Manchester United vs Sheffield United (6pm) Sky Sports
- Newcastle United vs Aston Villa (6pm) BT Sport
- Norwich City vs Everton (6pm) BBC
- Wolverhampton Wanderers vs AFC Bournemouth (6pm) BT Sport
- Liverpool vs Crystal Palace (8.15pm) Sky Sports
Thursday 25 June
- Burnley vs Watford (6pm) Sky Sports
- Southampton vs Arsenal (6pm) Sky Sports
- Chelsea vs Manchester City (8.15pm) BT Sport
Saturday 27 June
- Aston Villa vs Wolverhampton Wanderers (12:30pm) BT Sport
Sunday 28 June
- Watford vs Southampton (4.30pm) Sky Sports
Monday 29 June
- Crystal Palace vs Burnley (8pm) Amazon Prime
Tuesday 30 June
- Brighton & Hove Albion vs Manchester United (8:15pm) Sky Sports
Wedsnesday 1 July
- Arsenal vs Norwich City (6pm) BT Sport
- AFC Bournemouth vs Newcastle United (6pm) Sky Sports
- Everton vs Leicester City (6pm) Sky Sports
- West Ham United vs Chelsea (8.15pm) Sky Sports
Thursday 2 July
- Sheffield United vs Tottenham Hotspur (6pm) Sky Sports
- Manchester City vs Liverpool (8.15pm) Sky Sports
Coverage to make history
Such has been the clamour for live sport during the COVID-19 hiatus, the Premier League’s catch-up process is set to break new ground with EVERY game remaining to be broadcast live on either Sky Sports, Amazon Prime, BT Sport and also in a move that will make history, BBC Sport.
Not since 1992 has terrestrial TV seen live coverage of an English top flight game – in Division 1 as it was then – but on Saturday evening, the BBC will broadcast live prime-time coverage of a Premier League game for the first time as AFC Bournemouth host Crystal Palace.
Not only will three other games be available on the BBC before season’s end, but Sky Sports will also be showing selected live games on Freeview channel Pick for those without a Sky subscription. To date, eight games – including Sunday night’s Merseyside derby – will be made available.
Perhaps the biggest ground to be broken however, will be Saturday afternoon’s clash at the AMEX Stadium between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal, as the two sides play in front a live UK television audience at 3pm for the first time.
Music and crowd noise will be played through the in-stadium sound system for TV audiences, with the addition of an enhanced coin toss before kick-off with captains and officials mic’ed up.
Stringent safety measures
Of course, this will all occur in a very different sporting environment. Whilst the pandemic has retreated to manageable levels currently, the need to prevent further infections remains and measures are in place retain the safety and welfare of all involved.
There will be no rule for players and staff to wear masks at all times when not playing – as we have seen in the Bundesliga – however, it is expected that the majority of player personnel and staff will opt to do so. Medical staff however, will wear protective equipment with regular ball disinfecting carried out also during the course of games.
To protect player fitness levels, the introduction of a five-sub rule is hoped to prevent injury after a short window of preparation for resumption, whilst giving fringe players the chance to sample more game time.
Players are encouraged to limit contact during goal celebrations and at the conclusion of games, whilst individuals must shower where possible and any ice baths or injury treatment areas must not be shared.
In terms of post-match regulations, all media interviews must be undertaken pitch-side, whilst pressers will be done virtually. For players, with games set to follow in short periods of time, 25-minute warm-down sessions will be held by each team with distancing observed where possible.
A maximum of 300 people will be permitted inside stadiums on match-days, with areas split into red, amber and green zones. Additionally, players will undergo COVID-19 tests at the club’s training ground before travelling to games.
Show must go on
If any reminder were needed of the very different circumstances the Premier League will resume in, the news of an unnamed Norwich City player testing positive for coronavirus last week was a timely reality check.
With less than a week before Premier League resumption, one of the Canaries’ squad was revealed to have become infected on Friday, alarmingly just hours after Daniel Farke‘s men had played Spurs in a friendly at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
As the league and government have stipulated, should a player test positive for the virus, only he and his family must quarantine for seven days – not his team.
BBC Sport then reported on Tuesday that said player had then returned a negative test as a follow-up, and neither he nor family members have shown signs of infection, as plans continued despite a late scare.
Indeed, that appears to be the driving message despite the still lingering threat of infection. The will to get both the Premier League and Championship has been strong enough to this point; the desire – not least financially – is for the season now to finish, come what may.
The Premier League resumes on Wednesday evening, as Aston Villa host Sheffield United and Manchester City entertain Arsenal, kick-off 6pm and 8:15pm UK time respectively.
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