I’m so excited that the Premier League is back! I’ve always been a huge fan and not watching live games during lockdown was tough. I enjoyed listening to some great sports podcasts, but it is great that the season is now back up and running.
The Premiership returns
With the restart on 17 June, it was the first live Premier League action since March. There is still plenty to play for, so here are my key takeaways from what we’ve seen so far!
1. Football, with a difference
The game might be the same, but with empty stands the Premier League has a very different feel. Watching matches with my flatmates is a weird experience, but the option of canned crowd noise for the game you are watching helps. The lack of crowds just shows what a huge part fans play in making the Premier League such an incredible experience.
Some of the other changes — like face masks on the touchline — won’t last.. But other innovations such as the one-minute water break in each half might, with managers using them to make quick tactical switches.
2. Relief for Liverpool
They kept their fans waiting a little, but Liverpool finally sealed the title. It wasn’t the most satisfactory way to do it — with the Man City result going their way — but to Reds fans it doesn’t matter.
Even the most hardened rival will admit that Liverpool deserve it. They’ve been incredible this year. They missed out on a title last year with a points tally that would have won most championships, thanks to an unstoppable Man City team.
It felt impossible that they could repeat that standard this year, but they actually improved on it. After 30 years, the title is Liverpool’s, and it’s hard to see it going anywhere else for a few years to come.
3. Still all to play for at the bottom
While Liverpool are celebrating (and are already on the beach, judging by their 4–0 hammering by Manchester City the other day), the picture at the bottom isn’t so clear.
Norwich City are clearly doomed. But Bournemouth seem to be trying to outdo them in the race to the bottom. Since the restart they’ve been awful, losing their last five league games in a row. Their manager Eddie Howe has been a true hero to the club, but I’m not sure even he can get them out of this mess.
Beyond Norwich and Bournemouth, there’s not much to separate Villa, Watford and West Ham. If I had to predict the third club going down, I’d go for West Ham — there seems to be something very wrong with the London club at the moment.
4. A tricky restart for some
Some teams — Wolves and Manchester United for example — seem to be relishing the return to full-time football. They’re both on hot streaks and Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United are playing some of the most exciting football that fans have seen since the days of Alex Ferguson. It’s just a shame they’re doing it in front of empty stands!
Other teams aren’t finding things so easy meanwhile. I live in London and a few of my friends are Arsenal fans. Some of the older ones remember the defensive solidity of George Graham’s teams and today’s inconsistent performers are hard for them to watch.
They needed to bounce back from an early defeat at Brighton and with wins against Southampton, Norwich and Wolves since then, it seems they might have steadied the ship. They still give their fans nightmares though.
5. Who will be playing in Europe next year?
While the championship is over and two of the relegation places are nailed on, the race for Europe is still up in the air.
Manchester City are clear in second but are currently banned from European football next season. They’re appealing, but if that ban stays in place and one of the top six wins the FA Cup, then even eighth place might be good enough for European football next year.
Incredibly, fifth place might even get you a Champions League place, which seems crazy. Since when did finishing fifth make you a champion?
With that in mind, it means teams as far down as Everton in 11th can still dream of playing in Europe next year. The Toffees are my outside bet for qualification — they’re a long shot, but manager Carlo Ancelotti has them well organised, and there’s still a chance they could do it.
And finally… The return of the Premier League is an important moment
There is plenty that feels weird about the return of the Premier League. The empty stands, the elbow bumps between managers and the Zoom-style screens with fans watching at home are hard to get used to.
But the successful return of football bodes well for other sports too — I’ve already spoken here about how other sports are trying to get back up and running. They’re not all making it look easy, but it’s important to (safely) take these steps back to normality.
Personally, I see the return of the Premier League as a significant national moment. Whether you like it or not, sport in general is a huge part of our cultural and social life in the UK. It is inspiring to see football clubs show their solidarity with our key workers and the Black Lives Matter movement before each game.
It shows how football, and sport in general, brings us together in a shared experience. I’m so pleased to see it back.
You can read more of my thoughts on how to stay happy and entertained during lockdown on my blog.