We’ve had months of no football with intense anticipation as to whether the current season will be abandoned or determined by algorithms/statistic modelling. But, the wait is over. Premier league football officially returns on June 17th.
Football is needed more than ever to provide the escapism from what has been uncharted territory for us all. I’m excited for it. It’s similar in some respects to when the season starts back again, after the off-season. With so much left to play for, it should be a great end to the season. With all 92 remaining games being broadcast live across Sky Sports, BT sport, BBC sport and Amazon prime we’re in for a treat.
So where were we before the break?
Liverpool’s (1st, 82pts) aim to see the season out as the new invincibles were shot dead in the water by Watford. Despite that, Jurgen Klopps reds can wrap the league up with two more wins, perhaps even fewer, depending on how Manchester City fare.
Elsewhere, the race for the Champions League (CL) spots were hotting up. It is still unknown whether Manchester City are actually going to be able to compete in the competition next year as they appeal their two year European ban with the Court of Arbitration at the beginning of July for breaching Financial Fair Play Regulations. With this in mind, 5th spot may be enough to secure a spot for next seasons CL.
As it stands, if Manchester City’s (2nd, 57pts) ban does get overturned they would be clear favourites alongside Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester (3rd, 53pts) to secure the automatic CL group stage qualification spots.
Super Frankie Lampard’s Blues (Yes I’m a rentboy) are sitting pretty in 4th spot on 48pts, but their inconsistent form before the break – with just three wins in their last nine games means its likely to be a more nervous run in than I would’ve liked.
6 points then separates Manchester United (5th, 45 pts) and crystal palace (11th, 39pts). None of these teams can be ruled out of the race for Europe just yet. This includes this seasons dark horses in wolves (6th, 43pts) and Sheffield United (7th, 43pts) who have given themselves a platform to make a final push.
In my eyes no one’s benefited from this lockdown period more than Spurs (8th, 41pts) due to the amount of key players returning from injuries including talisman and top goal scorer Harry Kane. With Jose Mourinho in charge don’t be surprised to see them creep into a CL spot by the skin of their teeth.
For the neutral fan, though, the most excitement will come from the bottom of the table where the battle to stay up unfolds. The race to avoid the drop has every chance of going down to the wire, with six teams desperately fighting to stay in England’s top division. With the form book out the window due to this prolonged stoppage, predicting who will suffer demotion from the Premier League is harder than ever.
Those most at risk are Norwich (20th, 21pts) who started this season on a high sinking Guardiola’s Manchester City thanks to a master class from Teemu Pukki. Wind the clock on 10 months and the Canaries find themsevles rooted to the bottom of the table, 6 points adrift with the worst goal difference in the league. Combined with their tough run in, having consecutive fixtures against Everton and Arsenal before three straight games against other sides in the bottom six it has become an all or nothing scenario for Daniel’s Farke’s men.
Aston Villa (19th, 25pts) are the only side in the relegation scrap that have 10 games left, with the other five teams having 9 games remaining. Having more points available on the board must count for something? Villa did not look the same outfit with John McGinn missing from injury pre-lockdown so having him back will be a huge boost to their survival hopes.
Bournemouth (18th, 27pts) currently occupy the last spot in the relegation zone on goal difference – with one goal separating them and Watford (17th, 27pts). The cherries though face a horrendous set of fixtures to see out the season meaning they will face an uphill battle to stay up with 6 of their final 9 games coming against sides in the top 10. Watford on the other hand, have shown under Nigel Pearson that they have enough experience in the locker room to navigate their way to safety.
West Ham (16th) are also sitting on 27pts but boast a better goal difference. They are the classic ‘too good to go down’ team as on paper they have the strongest squad out of the teams in the relegation scrap. I have a sneaky suspicion that the goals just aren’t their though with their top scorer, Sebastien Haller, only having 7 premier league goals this season.
Brighton (15th, 29pts) have a crucial 2 point cushion at the top of the pack, as well as a much better goal difference which it could potentially be a game breaker for them. But with two wins since the start of December, the Seagulls will need to hit the ground running with games against four of the so called ‘big six’, as well as high-flying Leicester City.
This saying Jose Mourinho said in a press conference ‘I like my team to be proactive and not reactive’ has stuck with me and it couldn’t apply to this situation any better. Its up to these six teams to be positive in their fights to avoid the drop. Without fans in the stadiums who’s going to keep players honest and concentrated when they need it most. In my opinion this levels things out. I’ve gone from thinking Norwich were a certainty to get demoted, whereas now I’d give them a fighting chance. I really do.