It’s finally time to feast on some Premier League football as clubs race to finish the 2019/20 campaign by the end of July.
With clubs embarking on a ‘new normal’, could everything be up for grabs?
With matters to be decided at all ends of the table, you’ll hardly need to leave your sofa this summer.
Here’s how each team is shaping up ahead of the Premier League restart, as we look at Man City through to Wolves.
Premier League Restart – Man City to Wolves
Reasons to be cheerful: After taking on Liverpool on 2nd July, the end of the season looks a lot less taxing for City as they look to end this season on a high, with all four of their last opponents currently in the bottom six.
Reasons to be fearful: They’re still battling on a number of fronts, with the FA Cup and Champions League very much in play. City’s exceptional fitness levels can surely stand the unusual demands of this condensed calendar, but it’s still a unique situation for any side to contend with.
Verdict: Pep Guardiola is famed for his high standards, so expect City to show full commitment to closing the gap on Liverpool even if the title is effectively out of reach.
Reasons to be cheerful: The goal of Champions League football is within striking distance after Utd rallied impressively before the restart – now it’s just a case of finding that regular consistency. A fully-focused Paul Pogba would be a major boost if the French ace accepts a summer move may now not be a realistic option.
Reasons to be fearful: While several managers might have secretly welcomed the break and the chance to reboot, it couldn’t have come at a worse possible time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who was enjoying his best spell in charge of the club bar his miracle start.
Verdict: Is Ole a top-level manager? He’ll want to quell any of the remaining doubters with positive results from two tough-looking assignments against Tottenham and Sheffield Utd respectively that kick off their restart.
Reasons to be cheerful: That magical figure of 35 points. It should be enough, even if the Magpies were to limp their way over the line over the next few weeks. Steve Bruce is never going to be flavour of the month on Tyneside, but he has shown this season he can pull important results out the hat at just the right time.
Reasons to be fearful: This is Newcastle we’re talking about – a club that has a tendency to lurch into crisis just when things seem a little too good to be true. Magpies fans will be hoping all the speculation and uncertainty off the pitch doesn’t seep into performances on it.
Verdict: The fixture list looks kind enough for Newcastle to pick up the points they need, so final-day drama looks a non-starter for this season at least.
Reasons to be cheerful: It’s a fresh start, and despite lying in 20th in the league for much of the campaign, Norwich’s performances have looked mostly naïve rather than hopeless. They have enough class about them to catch a few teams cold and cause those just above them a few sleepless nights.
Reasons to be fearful: The same thing that’s hampered their chances all season: strength in depth. Can the Canaries cope with three games a week? There’s not much genuine quality beyond the starting XI to trouble Premier League defences.
Verdict: It’s still a big ask, but this unusual season has suddenly become a free hit for the Canaries.
Reasons to be cheerful: The Blades are still in dreamland, whatever happens now. A tilt at Europe would be an extraordinary achievement if Utd can keep their eyes on the ball now they are comfortably over the 40-point mark. In Chris Wilder, they have the right man to stifle any slacking.
Reasons to be fearful: The secret to staying in the league can often be reinvention. Shrewd managers will have used their time wisely to work out new ways of blunting the Blades’ biggest strengths. Can Wilder conjure up some more magic to unsettle his opponents?
Verdict: Whatever happens now, it’s been an astonishing campaign all round in South Yorkshire. Wilder must make sure it doesn’t end on a slightly sour note.
Reasons to be cheerful: For the first time in several seasons, a sense of calm has broken out at St Mary’s with Ralph Hasenhüttl signing a new long-term deal with the club during lockdown. That’s a pretty remarkable turnaround from the 9-0 home defeat to Leicester last autumn.
Reasons to be fearful: A false sense of security. 34 points looks all but home and hosed, but an early defeat to Norwich followed by quickfire games against Arsenal and Man City could leave Saints fans sweating just a tiny bit on their sofas.
Verdict: A quick win will probably do it for Saints – preferably starting on Friday night at Carrow Road. After that, it could be opportune timing to unleash some more of those academy stars.
Reasons to be cheerful: Jose Mourinho looks cheerful. With his A-listers all set for a comeback, the Spurs boss has been handed a second chance to revive Spurs’ flagging Champions League hopes. Mourinho has made plenty of enemies, but arguably deserved to be cut some slack when he had to muddle through without the likes of Harry Kane and Son-Heung Min. Now the gloves are off.
Reasons to be fearful: That first fixture looks like it could define the direction of Spurs’ season. A confident, disciplined display at Man Utd would surely help restore some belief that all is not yet lost this season. A defeat, and the soap opera starts all over again.
Verdict: Spurs look an intriguing prospect given the returning firepower and Mourinho’s fondness of a siege mentality. This really could go either way.
Reasons to be cheerful: You imagine he would hate the term, but Nigel Pearson is a firefighter, and in this situation he’s probably exactly the kind of manager you need to edge your way over the safely line. Watford’s form had tailed off slightly prior to the pause, the 3-0 thumping of Liverpool slightly aside, but you can guarantee Pearson will have his side well-drilled to exploit any teams napping.
Reasons to be fearful: Pearson has the organisational skills needed to avert a drop into the second tier, but he’ll need to find an extra gear somewhere to get some goals out of a Hornets side that have struggled with taking chances all season, with only 27 goals from their 29 games – three of those against Liverpool.
Verdict: It’ll be a slog, but Watford’s run-in looks favourable on paper and they are schooled in the hard yards of surviving at this level after four consecutive seasons in the top flight.
WEST HAM UTD
Reasons to be cheerful: An empty London Stadium. West Ham are one of the few clubs that might just relish playing without any frayed nerves seeping in at their home ground. Home form has been their downfall all campaign. Now they can play without that pressure.
Reasons to be fearful: A poor record against teams in the top half doesn’t make for comfortable reading, with Wolves, Tottenham, Chelsea and Man Utd all still waiting in their in-tray. That leaves them little wriggle room against the smaller sides if that record continues.
Verdict: The behind-closed-doors factor looks beneficial to West Ham more than most teams given the negativity towards both David Moyes and some players from a Hammers faithful exhausted by constant underperformance. Moyes’ men need to seize this rare opportunity for a rebrand.
Reasons to be cheerful: They started this season a little slowly and draws have been a source of frustration, but if any side can make a late break for the top four it’s Nuno’s impressive Wolves outfit. The gruelling Europa League campaign (still ongoing, of course) also means Wolves are one side that will have no problems with adapting to the hectic pace of the revised Premier League schedule.
Reasons to be fearful: Wolves tend to savour the big occasion, picking up notable scalps against the likes of Spurs, Man City and Liverpool over the last few seasons. Their remaining fixtures look a little mundane, and without a charged atmosphere, could they be one team that suffers more than most to the changed circumstances?
Verdict: They have the stamina to make a late play for the top four – if they can stop the self-stumbles against bottom half clubs.