So, where were we?
The Premier League have confirmed that matches will begin again on June 17, subject to meeting all safety requirements and games being played behind closed doors.
All 92 outstanding games – starting with Aston Villa v Sheffield United and Manchester City v Arsenal – will be played out live on TV through Sky, BT, BBC and Amazon Prime.
The start date is exactly 100 days after the Premier League’s last fixture, Leicester’s 4-0 win over Aston Villa.
A lot has happened since then – so where were we before the break?
Liverpool’s (1st, 82pts) hopes of a second consecutive Champions League title were ruined by Atletico Madrid, and their ambition of being invincible was destroyed by Watford. Despite that, Jurgen Klopp’s side can win the title with just two more wins – and perhaps even fewer, depending on the result between Manchester City and Arsenal on the (new) opening day of the season. The Reds could finish the season with a record-breaking 109 points.
Elsewhere, the race for the top 4 remains tight. Manchester City (2nd, 57pts) are clear favorites alongside Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester (3rd, 53pts) to secure the automatic group stage qualification spots for the UEFA Champions League (though the debate as to whether Manchester City can actually compete in the European competition next year rambles on).
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea (4th, 48pts) – boosted by the return of N’Golo Kante to training – currently occupy 4th place, but their inconsistent form before the break – with just three wins in their last nine – means it is likely to be a more nervous run-in than the Blues would’ve liked.
6 points separate Manchester United (5th, 45pts) and Crystal Palace (11th, 39pts), so no-one can be ruled out of the race for Europe just yet. Wolves (6th, 43pts) have maintained their fantastic 2018-19 form this season to hold 6th and remain well in the race for Europe next season (and indeed remain in the Europa League this season after a hard fought 1-1 draw at Olympiakos, their last game).
This season’s dark horse, Sheffield United (7th, 43pts), hold a game in hand over the teams above them and a win against Aston Villa in their first fixture after the break will put the Blades in pole position to seal a European spot.
However, Tottenham (8th, 41pts) and Arsenal (9th, 40pts) – holding 8th and 9th respectively – will be hoping that the Blades slip up and allow a route into Europe. Tottenham’s form since the turn of the decade has been woeful, with just three wins in their nine Premier League games in 2020. On the other hand, Mikel Arteta’s side have been boosted by the fact that they have not lost a league game in 2020. Form might not mean anything now, but at least they are in a decent position to push for Europe.
Outsiders Burnley (10th, 39pts) and Crystal Palace (11th, 39pts) still have a chance of qualifying, but their focus will be on simply finishing as high up the table as possible. Both sides, though, have tough games outstanding that could rope them back into the relegation dog-fight. Sean Dyche’s Clarets face Wolves, Liverpool, Manchester City and Sheffield United, whilst the Eagles – only behind Burnley on goals scored – face difficult ties against Chelsea, Leicester, Tottenham, Manchester United, Wolves and Liverpool.
For the neutral, though, the most excitement will come from the relegation battle. Mathematically, only Liverpool are safe from the drop. Those most at risk are Daniel Farke’s Norwich (20th, 21pts) who started the season well (who could forget Teemu Pukki sinking Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at Carrow Road), but find themselves 6 points adrift at the bottom of the table. With big games against the Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal to come, the odds of survival look slim – and there’s no hope of Delia Smith shouting ‘Let’s be havin’ you’ to an empty stand.
Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool, Wolves and Arsenal are the big tests for Aston Villa (19th, 25pts) in the coming weeks, but Dean Smith knows that his club’s fate is very much in their hands. A win over Sheffield United on the opening day will shoot the Villains out of the relegation zone, and then it’ll be all to play for.
Bournemouth (18th, 27pts) are in the relegation zone on goal difference – with one goal separating the Cherries and Watford (17th, 27pts) – but will face an uphill battle if they want to stay up. 6 of their final 9 games of the season are against sides in the top 10. The Hornets will be boosted by having a slightly better run-in on paper, including a six-pointer against bottom-of-the-table Norwich City, as well as captain Troy Deeney returning to training, despite publicly voicing his concerns about a return to action.
West Ham (16th, 27pts) – level on points with Bournemouth and Watford – are only higher up the division because of their goal difference. David Moyes has a tough task on his hands, but arguably the best squad of the teams level on 27 points. Also, there is the added pressure of West Ham’s big ambitious plans going down the drain – the Olympic Stadium just isn’t a ground that should be in the second tier. Brighton (15th, 29pts) are far from safe, too, with just two wins since the start of December, the Seagulls will need to feel completely refreshed and raring to go if they are to completely steer clear of the dreaded drop.
And then there’s Southampton (14th, 34pts), who feel a bit too far off of Europe to mount a fight but also slightly too far from relegation to go down, but they play a crucial role in how the season may end – they face teams scrapping at the bottom (Norwich, Bournemouth, Brighton and Watford all have games against the Saints) but also have a pivotal role in how Europe looks next season (with games against Sheffield United and the two Manchester clubs).
Newcastle (13th, 35pts) and Everton (12th, 37pts) also find themselves in this strange limbo – not much to play for for themselves it would seem, but no one has any clue what the Premier League might look like on its return in mid-June.
Regardless of form, this is – despite the circumstances – one of the most exciting ends to a season we might have seen. Combine that with the fact that we’ve had a 100 day wait and the tension is already building.
We can all already hear the Match of the Day theme tune… right?