Enduring three months of no Premier League football at a time when, well, there should have been Premier League football?
Completed it, mate.
Following Mikel Arteta’s positive coronavirus test on March 12, the Premier League were quick to grind action to an unprecedented halt. And that’s how its remained since.
But as I sit here today on May 28 – now my favourite day in the football calendar – I can, with my widest grin on my face, say we’re just 20 days away from the English top-flight’s return.
And while the Premier League can’t advertise a thrilling title race to conclude the campaign like the Bundesliga – which quickly evaporated, by the way – the race for European places and fight for survival are set to be contested until the very end.
So, with 92 games still to be played, here are a pick of the clashes to watch out for when Premier League football returns.
While this one doesn’t really have any implications on, well, anything – City are destined for a comfortable second-place finish, while Arsenal, down in ninth, are an outsider for a Champions League spot – it’s set to be, alongside Aston Villa vs Sheffield United, the first fixture back.
An Arsenal victory would not only thrust the Gunners back into European contention, a win for Liverpool in the Merseyside derby against Everton in their first game back would also see Jurgen Klopp’s Reds claim the title. Just like that.
Nevertheless, this ‘master vs apprentice’ clash proves to be an intriguing tactical battle as Arteta takes on mentor Pep Guardiola for the very first time in management.
The three-month hiatus has thrown Jose Mourinho’s once crumbling Tottenham right back into the mix.
Harry Kane, Steven Bergwijn, Son Heung-min and Moussa Sissoko are all back from long-term injuries, as Mourinho’s men looked destined for a late season resurgence amid the Portuguese boss’ best efforts to build a cohesive unit during the break.
The Lilywhites’ first game back will likely be against Mourinho’s former club and competitive rivals Manchester United. The Red Devils have been remarkably effective in the ‘big’ games this season as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s well-structured 5-2-1-2 has often thwarted opponents and turned United into a efficient counter-attacking machine.
I’m sure the Red Devil faithful will be desperate to see Paul Pogba saunter around in this one as well.
Who would’ve foreshadowed this clash having a say in the race for the Europa League places, let alone the Champions League?!
Chris Wilder’s Blades have unequivocally been the story of the season, taking the mantle from Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves, who similarly took the top-flight by storm during their return last season.
Both these sides currently sit on 43 points, just two points adrift of United in fifth (the potential final Champions League spot), and the pair will be hopeful they’re still in contention for an unthinkable qualification by the time they meet at Bramall Lane on matchday 34.
If that’s the case, expect this one to be a cracker between two fantastically coached sides.
The first north London derby at the Lilywhites’ swanky new stadium. This is one you won’t want to miss.
This is a derby which has brought unrivalled entertainment in recent years; from comebacks, controversy, goals (and a lot of ’em) and endless Twitter feuds; Tottenham vs Arsenal rarely disappoints.
Hopefully, the behind closed doors environment doesn’t inhibit too much of the drama, as both managers oversee their maiden north London derbies.
Although Nigel Pearson’s new manager bounce fizzled out somewhat before the break, Watford nonetheless transformed into the ‘people’s outfit’ with a 3-0 victory over Liverpool to grind the Reds’ unbeaten Premier League campaign to shuddering halt.
After looking destined for the drop for much of the first-half of the season, the back-to-basics approach by the former Leicester boss has had a profound effect on this Watford squad. The Hornets currently sit 17th in the table, level on points with Bournemouth and future opponents West Ham.
David Moyes’ appointment hasn’t exactly been a season-changer for the Hammers following the dismissal of Manuel Pellegrini in December. The east Londoners had won just one of their previous nine in the league before global pandemics came about.
Nevertheless, when these two collide at in the third from last matchday, it will likely have huge ramifications in the race for survival. But surely these two are too talented to go down? Surely?
Despite the best efforts of a deadly virus, Liverpool will lift the Premier League title at some point this summer.
And presuming the Reds don’t endure the most impossible of collapses, that time will arrive on the penultimate matchday – likely at the end of July – when they host Chelsea in their final home game of the campaign.
As well as being a title-party for the red half of Merseyside, this one could also hold some significance in the race for the Champions League spots. Frank Lampard’s young guns currently occupy fourth spot, five points clear of United in fifth, but are set to face a fierce late charge from their challengers.
Prepare yourself for another Jordan Henderson trophy lift, people.