English Premiership

5 talking points ahead of Premier League return

Mikel Arteta manager of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and West Ham United at Emirates Stadium on March 07, 2020 in London, United Kingdom.
Mikel Arteta manager of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and West Ham United at Emirates Stadium on March 07, 2020 in London, United Kingdom.
Julian Finney

The Premier League makes its return on Wednesday after 100 days in lockdown with starved football fans able to feast on 92 matches in the space of fewer than six weeks.

There are many story-lines to conclude with Liverpool set to clinch their first league title for 30 years, Champions League places up for grabs and a heated relegation battle.

Here Sport24 looks at 5 possible talking points as live football finally returns to the Premier League.

Hygiene protocols

As seen in other major European leagues such as the Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga, the Premier League will be aiming to have the same seamless transition to the new safety regulations when staging competitive matches.

Under strict guidelines, we have seen teams from across Germany, Italy and Spain diligently sticking to hygiene protocols and practising social distancing measures. We can expect much of the same in England as football resumes under intense scrutiny.

Games behind closed doors

After the opening rounds of fixtures across Europe it has become even more apparent that football is nothing without fans. In these unprecedented times, this could be evident even more so in the blockbuster Premier League. Renowned as the best league in the world, with the second-highest average crowd attendance - behind only the Bundesliga - it will be a stark contrast to see Premier League matches played in empty stadiums. Many teams have taken to cardboard cut-outs of fans and crowd chants to mitigate this.

How will the quality of play compare?

It has been interesting to see the difference in play in matches so far with it being clear that players were generally not on the same level of fitness which is to be expected. The actual quality of play has also changed with less pressure from the lack of fans meaning passing has become crisper and teams seem to have a better shape as players can actually hear each other when communicating in defence. We've also seen some cracking goals as players are willing to try things that they usually wouldn't. Toni Kroos' goal for Real Madrid against Eibar on Sunday can be used as an example. The German simply passed the ball into the top corner from the edge of the area as if he were on the training pitch.

Players to watch out for

The first round of fixtures on Wednesday will see the teams who have a game in hand face off against each other as relegation-threatened Aston Villa host Sheffield United (19:00) and Manchester City welcoming Arsenal to the Etihad Stadium (21:00). Players to watch out for will mostly comprise of attacking players such as the shoot-out between Sergio Aguero and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Others include Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne Mesut Ozil and the return to fitness of German international Leroy Sane.

Can Villa fight off relegation?

Perhaps the more interesting clash will be the earlier Aston Villa v Sheffield United kick-off. The better players seem able to adapt more easily with the transition of playing after being out of action for more than three months with likely more mistakes leading to a higher number of goals. Villa have been suffering from a leaky defence throughout the season and it will be interesting to see if they've managed to address this. Head coach Dean Smith will also be hoping captain Jack Grealish will be able to inspire his side clear of the drop. While the return of the influential John McGinn from injury will be a welcome boost.

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Fixtures
Thu 22 Apr 21 21:00 PM (SAST)
Leicester City
West Bromwich Albion
King Power Stadium
Fri 23 Apr 21 21:00 PM (SAST)
Arsenal
Everton
Emirates Stadium
Sat 24 Apr 21 13:30 PM (SAST)
Liverpool
Newcastle United
Anfield
Results
Wed 21 Apr 21
Aston Villa 1
Manchester City 2
Wed 21 Apr 21
Tottenham Hotspur 2
Southampton 1
Tue 20 Apr 21
Chelsea 0
Brighton & Hove Albion 0
Logs
Team
P
W
PTS
1. Manchester City
33
24
77
2. Manchester United
32
19
66
3. Leicester City
31
17
56
4. Chelsea
32
15
55