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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Project Restart sets stage for Liverpool’s first Premier League title, relegation mayhem

The Premier League is set to return on Wednesday amidst a plethora of health protocols and empty stands after a forced three-month break which delayed Liverpool's first league triumph since 1990.

Written by Natasha Singh | Updated: June 17, 2020 2:10:21 pm
Liverpool will aim to break Manchester City’s points record this season. (Source: File Photo)

With the implementation of ‘Project Restart’, the most-watched domestic league in the world will be back after the lockdown but in a way unknown to many. The Premier League returns on Wednesday after a three-month hiatus forced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the United Kingdom’s death toll stands at 41,736 due to the virus, football’s return in the country has come with conditions applied. Stadium access will be limited to only 300 people which includes the players, managers, officials, staff, and unfortunately, no fans. Before leaving for a match, all players and staff must complete relevant checks for Covid-19 and report any symptoms.

Teams will take the field separately, not side-by-side, and games will feature drinks breaks midway through each half. There will be no pre-match handshakes between teams and no handshakes at the coin toss. There will be no ballboys or ballgirls and players will have to use spare balls placed around the pitch if a match ball goes into the stands.

None of the remaining 92 games will be played simultaneously. Players are expected to maintain social distancing norms while celebrating a goal and the list goes on. But the biggest change is the newly-applied substitution rule which will let teams have nine players on the bench and five eligible substitutes during a match, instead of the usual three.

EXPLAINED | PL in the time of Covid-19, a whole different ball game

THE ALL-BUT-OVER TITLE RACE

Liverpool have lost just once in the season against Watford in February.

With a 25-point lead over Manchester City, Liverpool look unstoppable on their way to winning their first Premier League title. If Arsenal beat City on the opening day of the restart, and Liverpool manage to win against Everton on Sunday, then the trophy can be brought home to Anfield.

If that doesn’t happen, Liverpool can instead secure their first league title since 1990 on June 24 if they defeat Crystal Palace. Considering that Jurgen Klopp’s men visit City’s Etihad on July 2 next, they might or might not receive a guard of honour, depending on the social distancing rules.

The season is going to be extra special for the Reds, as they are also aiming to shatter a number of records on the way. Liverpool need only 19 points from the 27 available to surpass the record tally of 101 for a Premier League season set by Pep Guardiola’s City in 2018. The Reds can also set a record of most number of wins in a season and even the biggest title win by points margin.

City are currently awaiting a decision from Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS) on whether their two-year UEFA ban will be overturned. If the CAS does not rule in their favour, then Liverpool, Leicester City, Chelsea, and fifth-placed Manchester United are currently the top four teams to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

READ | PL returns with chances of a twist in the tale in the race for Europe

THE RELEGATION BATTLE

Norwich stand at the bottom of the Premier League table. (Source: File Photo)

At the other end of the table, the relegation battle is set to be one of the closest with six teams in threat. Having scored just 25 goals this season at an average of one-per-game, Norwich City (21 points) are at the bottom, six points away from safety. With tough fixtures like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City still left for them, Norwich have a severe headache on their plate.

Standing on 19th is Aston Villa (25 points), who also have to face the traditional four of the top six (vs Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal). They boast the poorest defensive record in the league with 56 goals conceded in 28 games and will rely heavily on the services of Jack Grealish.

West Ham, Watford, and Bournemouth are the other three clubs fighting the relegation battle, all locked at 27 points at the bottom of the table and separated only by goal difference. Brighton also see themselves fighting the relegation battle, having failed to win a single match in 2020.

With no home support for the rest of the season, relegation-threatened clubs will be further in a turmoil after data produced by Gracenote from Bundesliga’s “ghost games” shows a radical shift where home advantage has been wiped out in empty stadiums.

THE RACE FOR GOLDEN BOOT

Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy has had an enjoyable season so far with 19 goals. (Source: Reuters)

With 19 goals this season, Jamie Vardy is in firm position to win his first-ever Golden Boot after coming a close-second in Leicester City’s title-winning 2015/16 season. Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who won the Golden Boot last year, is just two goals behind. He has, however, said recently that he is at a turning point in his career and it will be a difficult decision whether to extend his contract at Arsenal or not.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and City’s Sergio Aguero follow closely at 16 league goals each. Southampton’s Danny Ings has been the surprise package of the season, scoring 15 goals. One below Ings are Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford — who is fit again after a back injury.

MARQUEE MATCHES

Manchester City vs. Arsenal (Wednesday, June 17)

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United (Friday, June 19)

Everton vs. Liverpool (Sunday, June 21)

Tottenham vs. West Ham (Tuesday, June 23)

Chelsea vs. Manchester City (Thursday, June 25)

Manchester City vs. Liverpool (Thursday, July 2)

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal (TBC)

Arsenal vs. Liverpool (TBC)

Liverpool vs. Chelsea (TBC)

West Ham vs. Aston Villa (TBC)

From June 17, all Premier League matches will be telecasted on Star Sports and Hotstar.

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