The return of the Premier League
No matches, no money. And so, after significant effort, the Premier League is piercing through the pandemic and bustling its way back onto screens around the world. Multiple rounds of testing for covid-19 have unearthed very few positives, and all 20 clubs appear ready to restart play. Of course, we'll be watching – and here are some of the storylines we'll be following:
Quickest answer to a question. Will Liverpool win the league? Yes. We can't claim to know exactly when – they may even have to wait until Aston Villa come to call at Anfield, or wherever that match will be played, on 4 July. But even if they can't clinch it until John Henry's flipping burgers in his back garden for Independence Day, they've got this one in the bag. They'll need a maximum of six points from nine matches.
Biggest streak interrupted. Jordan Pickford has started every Premier League match for which he's been eligible since 25 February 2017, leading all players. But it's now been more than three months since he last took the pitch. He's only had six clean sheets this season, and his last match was that 4-0 pasting at Stamford Bridge. His shot-stopping for non-headers in open play has been throwing up a warning signal in our system, too:
Making matters worse, the pandemic canceled the England No. 1's big wedding in the Maldives, and he was forced to tie the knot in scenic Crewe. Given the likely effect on his mindset, expect Carlo Ancelotti to give Jonas Lossl a chance between the sticks. Not.
Biggest transfer news. If Timo Werner really is coming to Chelsea – and it seems like he is – then Marina Granovskaia has put another one over on that bunch of jabronis who claim the title of director of football at other clubs. The signing is the biggest statement of intent so far among Premier League clubs, whose executives have been talking down this transfer window as they prepare to return millions of dollars in broadcast money. Folks, Roman Abramovich is the honey badger of economic downturns. We heard he named his latest megayacht Pandemic. Well, he could. Have a look at the goals on Werner's shot map, ye mighty, and despair:
Depending on how the Premier League reacts to FIFA's new rules, Werner could even arrive before this season ends... because finishing fourth is for losers, unless you're Arsenal. The only downside here is that we're deprived of the hilarious Timo Werner Tom Werner tie-up.
Biggest injury boost. There's no contest here – Manchester United have Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford back in training, and they've already been fit enough to play in preliminary friendlies. Neither player has been seen in a competitive match since the dead of winter, and they've been missed.
Just one request, Ole – can you please let Rashford play at striker and put Anthony Martial back on the wing, maybe even just once? Oh, and spare a thought for Odion Ighalo, who finally escaped the pandemic in China only to rack up a grand total of 260' worth of football in a Red Devil shirt.
Most endangered coach. In the good old days before clubs used data to figure out if they'd been unlucky or not, six matches without a win was a major risk factor for a coach's job. Nigel Pearson narrowly avoided the six-match streak by accomplishing the nearly impossible and chalking up a 3-0 against Liverpool on 29 February. But David Moyes had gone eight matches winless until West Ham beat Southampton at home on the same day. All of that pales in comparison to the streak Graham Potter is riding at Brighton, though. The Seagulls haven't won since 2019 and will host Arsenal for their tenth attempt at a victory. Potter's contract runs until 2025... because Brighton use data, right?
Biggest subplot during the break. It was a subplot before and it still is – the significant likelihood that Manchester City will be barred from European competition next season, opening up a spot for the Premier League's fifth-place club to enter the Champions League. Seven clubs will resume the season within six points of fifth place. And this situation raises the possibility that Roy Hodgson lead a squad into the world's most prestigious professional tournament for the first time since he ushered Malmo into the Round of 16 in 1989. That was the same season when most of his current back line at Crystal Palace were born.
Most important thing in all of this nonsense. Thanks to an effort led by Troy Deeney and Wes Morgan, Premier League players' shirts will have "Black Lives Matter" in place of their names for the first 12 matches of the restarted season. For years, persecuted players like Anton Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, and Raheem Sterling were conspicuously alone in the fight against racism, both in this sport and as footballers thinking about society at large. If this gesture is finally the beginning of real change, then Jurgen Klopp's stroll to the title will only be the subheadline in the 2019-20 season.