’Footballs coming home' has never been more accurate, the English Premier League amid the coronavirus pandemic put the beloved football league on postponement back in March. Now, nearly two months since the outbreak, life as a football fan will return a tad of normality.
While footballs are sprayed with disinfectant pre-game, and between intervals, the seated stadiums with some capacity exceeding fifty thousand will be empty. It's sure going to be an odd feeling without the atmosphere and brand new COVID-19 guidelines, but one thing is guaranteed, the countdown for die-hard EPL fans has begun.
With special COVID-19 passports in place and an array of brand new health & safety guidelines mandatory, all players/staff will be required to take a test for the virus two times per week. If the negative test doesn't match up with the barcode on the COVID-19 passports, access will be restricted into the venue.
Five substitutions allowed is another rule introduced for the remainder of the 19/20 season. This rule has been set in place to cover the player's liability to injury during this different period in time. "Matches may be played in a condensed period in different weather conditions, both of which could have impacts on player welfare".
The good news for those following strict social distancing rules will be that all games will be available to watch on TV. The remaining 92 matches will be on live TV, 33 of these will be on free-to-air television. For the first time since the introduction of the English Premier League in the early nineties, The British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC) will air top tier football live, having four fixtures scheduled.
Sorry ball boys, you won't be collecting the missed opportunities from your favourite footballer this season. A new "ball replenishment" system has been made available, where a cone of stacked balls will be allotted at certain positions around the pitch.
The home advantage could be a thing of the past, along with fans in attendance. Without the advantageous home crowd support, the Bundesliga and La Liga have already proven that the home statistics might be on a downtrend, especially for weaker teams who sometimes rely on the atmosphere for a boost in performance.
Football bettors can enjoy extra value from the bookmakers for the remainder of the season. The current betting lines for the English Premier League could become very interesting with the home advantage removed.
Relegation battlers Aston Villa will face-off against Top four contenders Sheffield United, United have surprisingly made a solid run this season after promotion from the Championship. Unlike their counterparts Aston Villa, United have been able to defy expectations and stay ahead of the pack; now in a battle for European qualification next season - a win for United at Villa Park could see them in 5th place by the week's end.
Some initial analysis would lead us to believe Sheffield United have a clear advantage and will undoubtedly put the home advantage difference to the test. Before the break, Villa was riding a four-game losing streak coming off the back of 4-0 hammering thanks to Leicester.
With new times and schedules in place, once the game has ended, we'll head straight on over to Manchester City vs Arsenal. These fixtures were the games postponed from the Matchday 29 schedule before the pandemic. 2nd place Manchester City will be looking to hold onto their position with Arsenal hunting with hopes of European qualification.
The quiet atmosphere leads me to believe that Manchester City will be more cerebral than ever before, with a fully-fit squad and Pep Guardiola at the helm. I think the trend of Arsenal coming up short against Manchester City will continue.
A scoreline of 3-1 has been continuous of recent, don't be shocked if City put more goals in the back of the net this time out. Mikel Arteta and the Arsenal squad are no slouches but have lacked inconsistency this season.
Whatever the outcome, the return of the English Premier League is finally upon us. Grab your beers, put your moaning spouse on mute, and enjoy the beautiful game.