The Premier League returns on Wednesday with Manchester City and Arsenal battling each other in one of the mouth-watering fixtures.
Manchester City are second-place on the league log with 57 points, 25 behind leaders, Liverpool.
Pep Guardiola’s men will only need a miracle to overtake the Reds who will play Everton in their first game after the break occasioned by the COVID-19 lockdown.
Arsenal on the other hand, are ninth on the table having garnered 40 points from 28 matches (they have a game at hand).
City have won all last five matches against the Gunners and will want to extend their winning run tonight.
In the other Premier League fixture for the day, Aston Villa will be away to Sheffield United at the Bramall Lane.
Aston Villa, battling for survival, will fancy a win against the Blades who are chasing a Champions League spot and on 7th position on the table.
– ‘Odd Experience’ –
With all games being played behind closed doors, players will have to get used to the eerie silence in the usually raucous stands.
Piping crowd chants into stadiums, cardboard cut-outs of supporters and live video fan walls will add colour but the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters admitted there would be something missing without fans.
“It is going to be an odd experience without fans at the stadia,” he said. “We are going to start to witness it from tomorrow evening and the Premier League won’t be back with a capital ‘B’ until fans are back.”
About 300 people will be allowed in stadiums for each match, with strict health protocols in place.
There will be widespread disinfection of changing facilities, dugouts, matchballs, goalposts, corner flags and substitution boards.
People other than players and coaching staff on team benches must wear face coverings.
Players have been told to maintain social-distancing during goal celebrations and banned from spitting.
PREMIER LEAGUE FIXTURES TODAY
Below are the Premier League fixtures for today as well as their kickoff times:
Also, players and coaching staff were tested for the virus and as football returns in the English topflight, social distancing rules will be maintained as much as possible.
FIFA had given the nod for five substitutions instead of three, fans will not be allowed to watch their teams in the stadia and goal celebrations would be minimized equally as one of the most followed leagues in the world restarts.
🖐 Managers can now make use of five substitutes during a match
🔄 Teams can now have nine players on the bench, but the manager can only make substitutions on three occasions, not including at half-time
He is closely followed by Arsenal’s Gabonese forward, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who has struck 17 times in 26 matches for Mikel Arteta’s side.
The former Borussia Dortmund man was awarded the prize in the previous season alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Salah of Liverpool are breathing down their necks with 16 goals each.
A chasing pack which includes Southampton’s Danny Ings, Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham, and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford will also fancy their chances of landing the Golden Boot gong when the season ends.
Race For Europe’s Elite Competition
The race for Champions League spot in the Premier League is fierce. Pep Guardiola’s City have been banned from taking part in the Champions League for the next two campaigns for breaching Financial Fair Play rules.
The club has launched an appeal for a reversal and unless this is successful, they will have to relinquish their Champions League spot to the fifth-place side.
Leicester City look secured in third place with 53 points, five above Frank Lampard’s Chelsea who are fourth on the log.
But the spot for fourth place looks within reach for many teams and even Arsenal who are ninth on the table having played 28 games with 40 points to show for it.
United who were on a five-game unbeaten streak before the forceful break are lurking around to overtake Chelsea who occupy the precious Champions League spot.
They are just three points (45) of the Blues but will have to also contend with surprise packages – Wolves and Sheffield United – who they lead by two points.
Although Tottenham, in eighth and Arsenal in ninth and are eight points away from the fourth position with a game in hand, will also fancy their chances of returning to Europe’s elite club competition.
The Gunners have missed the tournament since the 2016/2017 season and will face a stiff test when they visit the Etihad Stadium in their first game back after the break.
Bottom Battle: The Quest For Survival
While other teams are battling for European places at the top of the table, it is a fight for survival for the Bottom teams.
Norwich City are rock bottom with 21 points from 29 matches, six points below safety and will need a miracle to stay in the top flight next season.
West Ham, Watford, and Bournemouth are all on 27 points and on the 16th, 17th, and 18th positions respectively.
This means there is still a lot to be fought for and a win would make all the difference for any of the teams.
Among the bottom five sides, Aston Villa appear to have the advantage to reset their poor run of forms.
They have a game in hand and a win could catapult them off the relegation zone after their poor run of four back-to-back defeats.
Although the odds looked against them late last year, Watford’s surprising 3-0 victory over Liverpool, in March, which was their fourth win in five games, may well be the revival they need for survival.
Bonus: Golden Gloves
It would not just be about the strikers as the Premier League returns. Liverpool’s Alisson Becker and Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City, among others, will battle for the Golden Gloves.
🧤A number of ‘keepers are in the frame to win the @CadburyUK Golden Glove
Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert has emerged the fifth manager to depart in this current Premier League season, after Neil Warnock (Crystal Palace), Alan Irvine (West Bromwich Albion), Alan Pardew (Newcastle United) and Harry Redknapp (Queens Park Rangers).
According to a statement from Aston Villa, Lambert was shown the way out of the club after a run of ten winless games took them into the English Premier League relegation zone.
The forty-five year old took over at Villa Park in 2012 and led the Midlands club to 15th-place finishes in his first two seasons, but the former Scotland midfielder had come under pressure from fans following a poor run of recent form.
Villa’s 2-0 defeat to Hull City on Tuesday night was the last straw for the club’s board. The defeat saw them slip into the relegation zone for the first time this season – they were third from bottom ahead of Wednesday night’s Premier League fixtures.
A lack of goals has been Villa’s primary problem all season – they have managed just 12 in 25 league matches and have not won in 10 games.
A statement on the club’s website read: “Aston Villa Football Club has parted company with manager Paul Lambert. First-team coach Scott Marshall and goalkeeping coach Andy Marshall will continue to prepare the squad for Sunday’s FA Cup tie with Leicester City at Villa Park.
“The club would also like to place on record its thanks to Paul and take this opportunity to wish him every success in the future.
“The club will announce a new manager in due course. There will be no further comment from the club at this stage.”
Many of Villa’s travelling fans at Hull made it clear they wanted Lambert to be sacked. After Tuesday’s defeat Lambert remained in defiant mood, saying: “I was aware of it (fan unrest) months ago. I just try to do my best.
“We have a massive fanbase behind us, and they want to see the team doing well. It was a disappointing result. “We are in a fight. I have said it to the lads in the dressing room. They know it. There is still a lot of football to be played. We just have to go out to win the next game.”
Lambert replaced Alex McLeish in June 2012 after two years with Norwich City. He signed a new contract extension in September last year, shortly after a 1-0 win over Liverpool took them to second place in the table. They won three of their opening four matches of the season, drawing the other.
But Villa’s season soon collapsed – they have won just two of their last 21 games, including a dismal run of 659 minutes without a Premier League goal which ended in a defeat to Chelsea earlier this month. Nevertheless Villa chiefs showed every sign of resisting the growing unrest among Villa fans and keeping faith in the Scot despite their plunge into the relegation zone.
Villa have been knocked out of the League Cup by third-tier Leyton Orient, but have reached the fifth round of the FA Cup.