Source: Tom Jenkins/The Observer
With the Premier League returning to the pitch, it seems like a decade has passed since the last match was played. On June 17th, it will mark 100 days without English Premier League football, but that day will now mark the restart of play. The wait is finally over.
With many other sporting leagues around the world being postponed or cancelled, I am here to bring back the top stories/interest points that will sprint back to life with the restart of the Premier League. And no, it will not be about the title race or lack of one (in comparison to the return of other major European leagues).
1. North London Under Construction
The Premier League clubs of North London – Arsenal and Tottenham – seem to have been heading towards chaos before the 2019/20 season even started. With Arsenal, they were entering their second year under new manager, Unai Emery, who was under pressure to improve after failing to qualify for Champions League football the season prior with a horrible ending; a 4-1 bashing against Chelsea in the Europa League Final.
The fire that would soon engulf Spurs started after the season was underway, as the team seemed to be on a decline, having peaked after making it to Madrid to play Liverpool for their first UCL title back in June of last year.
Between the two rivals, Spurs pushed the emergency button first and within 24 hours, the new manager was announced: the “Special One”, Jose Mourinho. It seemed that this was the right decision at first, with Jose turning the team around quickly, but soon cracks started to show that this project was going to take some time to fix. Injuries took hold and Christian Erikson left during the winter transfer.
Progress was made in the Premier League, but they were knocked out of the Champions League by a two-game aggregate of 4-0 to a club that was only created in 2009, RB Leipzig.
Arsenal pushed the emergency button far too late in most fans’ opinions, and there seemed to be no plan for the future once Emery left London. The caretaker manager was a club icon during the club’s most successful years, Freddie Ljungberg. However, they didn’t supply a successful team of coaches to help out Freddie through this difficult time and all he was given was Per Mertesacker, the manager of Arsenal’s Academy.
Arsenal were still struggling until they finally reached a deal to bring in another former player to manage the club, Mikel Arteta. The Gunners seemed to have been given a shot of Cruyffian football in their veins and have brought more energy to their game. Bringing unbeaten results in January, Arteta seemed to have the team firing on all cylinders, but an exit in the Europa League to Olympiacos showed that more work had to be done to fix the club.
With both North London clubs out of European competition, they can concentrate on the domestic duties they still have. Spurs under Jose are making the push for a Champions League position while Arsenal could have a successful season by just making it back into a Europa League spot by the end of July, or winning the FA Cup. The latter should be easier, being the club to host the trophy a record 13 times. Maybe either club will call it a successful season by finishing higher in the table than their North London rival.
2. The Blades Raised High
Some teams have surprised amateurs and professionals alike, but none have taken a bigger leap on their expectations from the start of the season than Sheffield United. Chris Wilder would have been pleased with staying in the Premier League for another season and even more so to finish in the top half while executing his philosophy at an above average rate.
That did not happen when the Premier League came to a halt.
At one point in the season, the Blades were in a Champions League spot (all pending on the denial of Manchester City's appeal to their 2-year European ban). Chris has gotten the better of Arsenal and held them to a draw while also drawing against Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United in a thrilling 3-all score-line. They are an exciting team with a unique style many refer to as overlapping center backs; however, it should be referred to as overloading the wide areas with defenders. This allows them to commit more attacking players in the final third to score goals.
So, when Sheffield United take the field to open the restart against Aston Villa, the pressure will be back on the Blades to begin exactly like they did at the start of the season. Players like Oli McBurnie, John Fleck, Dean Henderson, and even new players like Sander Berge will be called back to action to help this incredible story continue. 3 points on the opening game of the restart for Chris’s team will see them go to 5th in the table and they will surely be a team many believe have exceeded expectations, while dreaming of more to come.
3. The Hunting Foxes
The only team to one-up Sheffield United this season has been Leicester City. Many thought this team had to fight for the chance to be in a European position but early on it was clear that they could be very troublesome for opponents. The Foxes have only lost 4 games – to Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool twice – out of 20 to finish off 2019 and then started 2020 with a 3-0 thrashing over Newcastle. They have scored 4 goals in a match thrice while also scoring 5 goals once and have joined Manchester United with the largest win in the competition, 9-0.
It is no mistake that I put them at number three as they have been the third best team in England all season. This break was surely welcomed when it happened so players such as Vardy, Maddison and Barnes could rest, but the fear of the season suddenly being null and void was surely the worst-case scenario for Leicester City. Now, that fear is gone and the break is finishing up for Brenden Rodgers and his men. With a trip to Watford for the first game, there will be pressure to get a win and keep a hold of being the third best team in England.
4. Frank’s Young Boys in Blue
Chelsea may be the only team that has benefited from the sudden halt to the world of football. They might even be lucky that they received a transfer ban during the open window before the pandemic consumed Europe. Suddenly, clubs are thinking about their pockets in a way of how to pay their entire staff during a time when there is no football being played, never mind buying players from other clubs.
But Chelsea are now on their way to paying a release clause for one of the hottest products in the sport, Timo Werner. With Ziyech already on the way and now news breaking that Ben Chillwell and Kai Havertz may be coming as well, suddenly poses the question on how only one club in the world is acting like this right now.
The interesting part of this story is a trend that has come from these transfer targets: they are all young, bright, attacking players. Frank Lampard is the reason for this, as he was hired during the start of Chelsea’s transfer ban and the solution to this problem was to play the youth players coming out of the academy, mixed with the remaining players from past managers.
Even though Chelsea lost to Manchester United 4-0 on the opening day, the Blues turned it around quickly to beat Wolves - many believing to be a better team - 5-2, with every goal coming from a youth player from Chelsea’s academy. They followed-up that victory with a fight to a top 4 place and have been holding on to it ever since, with players like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Billy Gilmour, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori coming to play for the first team (none of them are over the age of 22). However, the youth has been shaky for Chelsea at times which is to be expected, and injuries have played their part on this team, causing missed chances at grabbing three points from games.
The three-point gap Chelsea have over Manchester United shows that even though they were defeated on the opening day, Frank believes in the kids.
5. The Quest for Europe
All the teams named above are battling for a spot to play in Europe next season except Leicester City, who should believe their battle has been won. There might not be a cup to lift at the end of the season, but it is the dream to lift another trophy in the upcoming future, possibly a title in Europe. There are only 8 points separating Chelsea in fourth from Arsenal who are in ninth. The race is on.
One team that is set for a European quest is Manchester United, and they are now heading in the right direction for the first time arguably since Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial reign. They’ve brought in the Englishmen Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and the Welshman Daniel James to the club. Then, they got one of the hardest working players in the world now….
Bruno Fernandez deserves the attention he will get over the summer because he has one of the hardest jobs in the footballing world, to play for Manchester United in the post-Ferguson era. He knew the challenge when he signed for the club and has given a different kind of hope to the owners and to the fans. From the first game, he was commanding the tempo and passes, looking to score or find anyone willing to be a threat. The Devils are 3 points back from a Champions League position and Bruno will be the key to this success.
A deep shoutout to Burnley, who would need to have a near perfect restart to head into a European spot. It is unlikely but still not impossible.
The Premier League’s restart brings the stories and emotions of club football back to the fans. If not physically in front of them with familiar sounds, it will be in front of an electronic screen of some sort and a mixture of features to try to please fans during this time of hardship. When the whistle is blown and the ball is kicked, sit down, and enjoy. The Premier League is back at last.