The Premier League has confirmed that it’s provisionally scheduled to return from the pandemic-induced hiatus June 17, following in the footsteps of the Bundesliga in a bid to complete the season. Below, we highlight 10 things we’re looking forward to seeing when England’s top flight restarts.
Liverpool winning the title on the pitch
Barring the most spectacular collapse in Premier League history, Liverpool will win their first league title in 30 years. It’s simply a matter of when, as Jurgen Klopp’s team, 25 points ahead of Manchester City, is six points away from clinching its long-awaited crown. Should City lose their first match back – against Arsenal on June 17 – the Reds could complete the job in their return to action against Merseyside rivals Everton.
Even if the season ended prematurely and they were simply handed the title, Liverpool would be deserving champions. They’ve been that dominant.
It seems increasingly unlikely that they’ll be able to celebrate the triumph – or accomplish the feat at Anfield, for that matter – but ask anybody at the club, and they’ll surely say the opportunity to finish the job on the field is their preference, even if the eventual scene will be surreal.
The Champions League race
Manchester City’s ban from European competition, which will be appealed in court next month, has provided an added layer of intrigue to an already manic Champions League race.
Leicester City, still sitting third despite some pre-shutdown wobbles, should be able to see out the season and lock up a top-four berth. After that, it’s a damn free-for-all.
Chelsea and Manchester United have tripped over themselves in a variety of new and hilarious ways all season, yet they’re both positioned to reach next season’s elite continental competition thanks in large part to the ineptitude of some other perennial contenders. Should they continue to falter, though, the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers and, incredibly, Sheffield United are poised to pounce and secure unlikely spots in next season’s tournament.
Chris Wilder’s overlapping center-backs battling Lionel Messi and Barcelona? Yes, please.
A festival of football
Open wide for some soccer. Assuming the league returns and there are no setbacks from a health and safety perspective – which remains the most important consideration in all of this – the proposed schedule will make it impossible not to watch English football over the next couple of months.
There are logistical concerns with such a congested fixture list; if you find yourself wondering about the quality of the product and the potential for a spate of muscle injuries, you’re not alone.
But, on the surface, this “festival of football” is certainly exciting.
The chance to watch Kevin De Bruyne
That’s it. That’s the whole reason. Getting to watch the Belgian magician play football, in any setting, is a treat. At this point, we’d tune in to see Kevin De Bruyne doing keep-ups by himself on a barge in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Pogba, Fernandes finally teaming up
The January arrival of Bruno Fernandes gave Manchester United the creative boost they desperately needed. The Portuguese midfielder, signed from Sporting CP for an initial £47-million fee, injected some life into a team that had struggled to craft scoring chances all season.
Paul Pogba’s long-term ankle injury robbed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of the opportunity to play the two midfielders together, but the hiatus has allowed the Frenchman time to recover and regain fitness. The prospect of both stars in the same lineup is making Red Devils supporters giddy, and with good reason.
For a team that has scored just 44 league goals this season – easily the fewest of any side in the top five – United need all the attacking help they can get.
The drama in north London
Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have provided a veritable collection of confounding moments this season. From managerial firings to public rows between players and their own fans, things have been wild in north London.
Every time either team took a step forward, it seemed to inevitably be followed by two steps backward. Even before the season was put on hold, this was anything but a conventional campaign – the perennial contenders, in almost comedic fashion, kept finding ways to stumble. But none were more culpable than these two rivals.
Now, in the wake of a work stoppage where everyone is essentially starting back up from scratch, how these teams will react is anybody’s guess. Arsenal and Tottenham could catapult into the Champions League places, or they could be dragged into the bottom half of the table.
Stars returning from injury
Saying that anyone is going to “benefit” from the lengthy layoff, considering the circumstances surrounding the hiatus, seems crass. It is true, though, that the impromptu pause will grant a number of previously injured Premier League players the chance to return this season when they otherwise may have already been looking ahead to 2020-21.
The likes of Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, Marcus Rashford, and Leroy Sane, among many others, are expected to recover from respective ailments in time for the league’s planned return June 17.
Assuming the rest of the season is completed, having all of the league’s best players available makes for a better, more enjoyable product.
Records to be broken
We’re looking at you again, Liverpool.
The champions-elect have the chance, if they see out the year, to set the standard for points in a Premier League season. Manchester City’s 100-point campaign from 2017-18 is the current benchmark, but Klopp and Co. need just 19 of a possible 27 points to eclipse that record.
At this point, it’s difficult to see them falling short.
Battle for the Golden Boot
Rather quietly, Leicester hitman Jamie Vardy grabbed the lead in the scoring race before the season was put on hold. The sinewy Englishman, who netted a brace in the Foxes’ most recent match, has 19 goals on the year.
The chasing pack includes Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (17), Mohamed Salah and Sergio Aguero (16 each), and surprise package Danny Ings, whose 15 goals have kept Southampton afloat.
A host of others are on the fringes of the race, including Sadio Mane, but the coveted scoring title will likely be won by someone from the aforementioned group come season’s end.
Who will avoid the drop?
The scrap at the bottom of the table never gets the same attention as the one at the top, which is understandable, but this year’s relegation fight is shaping up to go right down to the wire.
Only six points separate basement-dwellers Norwich City from West Ham in 16th place. Even Newcastle, currently sitting 13th, could see themselves yanked into the clutches of the relegation battle if they’re not careful.
With the title all but decided, matches involving desperate teams at the foot of the standings figure to be the most intense we’ll see when the season gets back underway.
Bonus: A welcome distraction
Let’s be honest: we can all use one right now.