And lo, football fans around England rejoiced as the Premier League returned. It’s not as it was, nor as we wish it could be, but it is back. The first games took place last Wednesday and it was a huge relief. Now we all know that Liverpool have all but won the title, two wins and it’s theirs. What will occupy most football fan’s attention now is the race for European qualification and relegation to the Championship. Tottenham and Manchester United will hope to leapfrog Chelsea into the final Champions League qualifying spot while the bottom six will all be looking to secure their place in next season’s competition.
Now no professional competitive football match is quite right without a crowd. Players feed off a crowd’s support and can find extra reserves to keep going and keep giving. Now without that external motivation two feet away from them, the players will have to keep focused. But there is still so much to play for that will help to focus the players. I don’t mind the pumped in crowd sounds either; just hearing the ambient sounds inside the stadium is a bit weird. It’s interesting to hear the shouts that the players and coaches direct towards each other that are often drowned out by the fan’s own shouts. The fact that every game is being televised is something new in English football, but given the situation that had to happen. Otherwise fans would have been unable to see their sides whenever their team played a 3 o’clock kick-off. I also wonder whether the modified schedule is something that might stick around after the coronavirus has either eased off to allow supporters back into stadiums or a vaccine has been discovered. The schedule is very similar to what you might see in Spain and other European leagues. Instead of the fixtures being condensed into three sometimes four days, they take place all across the week. I don’t think it would affect attendences at all, because no matter what type of TV coverage you have in place for football matches, it cannot beat being at the stadium and being caught up in the emotion of urging your side on to a win.
The trends we saw emerge in the Bundesliga games played have somewhat translated over to the Premier League. We have seen very few home wins in the games played so far, which does suggest that the fans really can play a huge role in motivating and sustaining their team to push themselves over the line and get the three points. We are also seeing fewer shots, perhaps again explained by the lack of fans encouraging players to take a pot shot. There have also been more fouls per game, suggesting that the restart has been dominated by defences rather than being set alight by the forwards. Most goals scored have been in the second half perphaps indicating that the players needed some playing time under their belts to get back towards full match sharpness. The increased subs bench is another indicator of that, being able to use five of nine instead of three of seven. It may take the players a couple of games to get back to to competitive fitness. But they are not starting a brand new season with a clean slate; they are picking up where they were with the same goals still left to be achieved.
Chelsea have strengthened their chances of a top-four finish after Sheffield United, Manchester United and Leicester City all failed to win, while the Blues avoided an upset in a comeback win against relegation threatened Aston Villa. After the weekend’s results they move within three points of Leicester in third and six points ahead of Manchester United and Wolves respectively. Meanwhile, Norwich look to be in serious trouble after a 3-0 home defeat to a very impressive Southampton side. West Ham are also looking shaky after their home defeat to Wolves, while Newcastle United and Brighton have given their survival bids fresh impetus with home wins over the weekend. Crystal Palace have also boosted their own chances of survival after a good win over a very lacklustre Bournemouth who look to be heading back to the Championship. And while Liverpool were unable to beat Everton in the Merseyside derby yesterday, their coronation as champions is inevitable.
So, the Premier League has returned. Not as we knew, not as we want it. But, it is back. There is still plenty to play for, including the F.A. Cup, and games nearly every day from now until late July. I think that will make up for the Euros being postponed.