If it feels like the sporting world is at that point where all the people who were really excited to drink for free are showing up too early to the party, that’s because it kind of is. A month after the German Bundesliga kicked things off by helping to set up the food and arrange the furniture, and Spain’s La Liga wandered in not sure if it was in the right place, the Premier League is ready to stumble in, break the door, and vomit on the dog. It’ll kick off Wednesday afternoon with Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United and Manchester City vs. Arsenal, before a full slate over the following weekend.
After a three-month break, simply unheard of in world football, where are we? Glad you asked.
Should England Be Starting The Premier League Again?
Probably not. Though both Italy and Spain were horrifically ravaged by the coronavirus in the spring, thanks to severe lockdowns and ramped up testing, both countries were able to get their rate of new cases down to the low hundreds per day at the moment. Which makes opening up their respective leagues feel...well, less insane.
The U.K. on the other hand, thanks to being run by human thumb-in-his-ass Boris Johnson and his Tory party, is nowhere near that. The UK is testing about a third of the people per capita that Italy is, and is even behind the balloon-handed U.S. in testing. Whereas Spain and Italy have their daily new cases count between 200-400 at the moment, the UK is still at 1,000. The UK has also passed those countries in deaths, topping 40,000, the most in Europe, just behind Brazil even though the latter has three times the population. And is also Brazil.
This was a country that originally thought it could fight coronavirus through herd immunity, remember.
Still, they’re going to plow ahead, with most of the protocols you’ve seen elsewhere. Players and staff are tested twice a week, there will be social distancing on the benches and buses and dressing rooms, no ball boys, though players and coaches will not be required to wear masks on the bench and sidelines as they are in Germany.
Though just two days ago, a Norwich player tested positive, which only requires a seven-day quarantine for him individually. Which hardly feels like a thorough enough process, but the general consensus is...hey look over there! (smoke bomb)
So yeah, there’s every chance that the Premier League could be the one of the Big Four still playing that doesn’t finish after attempting to do so (France canceled itsleague altogether).
Is There A Title Race?
Fuck and no. Not even a whiff of one. Less of one than there’s ever been, in fact.
Liverpool have had the title wrapped up since about Christmas, and arguably since November when they beat City 3-1 at home to move nine points clear at the top. They’re currently 25 points clear, which for the uninformed is just about equivalent to standing on opposite sides of Yellowstone Park from your nearest competitor. No one can even see Liverpool grabbing their junk in triumph and taunt. They could clinch the title as soon as Sunday, if City were to lose on Wednesday to Arsenal. Likely, it will take no longer than next Wednesday when Liverpool hosts Crystal Palace.
The only mystery for Liverpool is if they can beat City’s record of 100 points in a season or largest title-winning gap (19 points). How determined they are to do that is up for question, though they won’t have anything else to do. But they’ll also want to give some of their young players more of a run than they’ve gotten just to see what they have for next season, whenever that is. About the only thing to watch is how Las Vegas-distilled-into-one-body Jurgen Klopp balances that.
Is There Anything Worth Following?
Plenty! The chase for the Champions League places is, to quote Jim Ross, “Gonna look like Saturday night in Muskogee on a payday weekend.” Not only is there a big group of teams vying for the spots, it’s not clear how many spots they’re competing for. Manchester City’s two-year European ban could mean fifth-place gets a club into the highest club competition in the world. But City’s appeal to the European CAS won’t be decided until July, and the whole ban could get thrown out. The most likely scenario is City’s ban lasting at least a season, so teams will be hot after fifth just to make sure.
Which leaves seven teams fighting for either two or three spots. Leicester and Chelsea currently hold third and fourth which definitely will get a team into the Champions League, with Manchester United three points behind that, Wolves and Sheffield United two points behind United, Spurs two points behind that duo, and even Arsenal in with a shout a point behind Tottenham.
United might be the team most worth watching. They have the easiest schedule, Bruno Fernandes seemed to provide a jolt when joining in January, and they’ll get both Marcus Rashford (who is also a goddamn hero, we should add) and prodigal son/wayward child/whipping boy Paul Pogba back from injury. That is if glorified club mascot parading around as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can figure out what the fuck he’s doing.
Sheffield United or Leicester would be the better stories. Sheffield was only promoted this season, and though their history suggests they would kick everyone to shit and lump the ball forward, they’ve actually been one of the more entertaining sides to watch. Leicester had most of their title-winning side of four years ago strip-mined, but have replaced most of it with young players and shrewd buys from around the continent. A Champions League berth for either would help them keep their teams together for at least a little longer. But manager Brendan Rodgers has something of a rep for glorious defeat (pardon me, gonna wash breakfast down with Drain-O for seven minutes).
What About Relegation?
Something of a large scrap there too. Norwich are pretty much dead and buried in last on 21 points, six points from safety. But above that, Villa, Bournemouth, Watford, West Ham, and Brighton are all within four points of each other to avoid the last two relegation spots.
West Ham shouldn’t be here, but are run in a Sabres/Mets/Bulls/Bengals like fashion. West Ham probably should be competing for Europe year in and year out, but owners David Sullivan and David Gold change managers every time they sneeze, sign players without a plan other than to grab headlines, and generally have made things a mess. They’ve already overseen one relegation to the Championship and seem intent on another. They fired Manuel Pellegrini and replaced him with David Moyes, whom the fans already hated from his first stint with the club and is a bit like trying to spice up your sex life by playing Norah Jones.
Bournemouth were something of a years-long Cinderella story the past five seasons in the Premier League. But there’s a feeling of the bubble having burst and manager Eddie Howe taking them as far as they can go.
Villa spent nearly $190M last summer upon their promotion from the Championship, and they’re still a team that goes as far as homegrown star and total prick-looking Jack Grealish can take them. Grealish is almost certainly headed to greener pastures however this season ends, but will be desperate to save his boyhood club from a quick disappearance whence they came.
Watford is somehow the only team in the league to beat Liverpool this season, giving them the Buster Douglas award for the year. After a brief spasm of life after also changing managers, that Liverpool win was their only one in their last seven.
Brighton are the best defensive team in the relegation battle, and have by far the best expected goal-differential as well, so they should sneak away while everyone else is tripping over themselves.
How To Watch
Much like La Liga, as every match is essentially a TV product with no crowds, the Premier League will stagger matches starting on Friday so that rarely are there two going on simultaneously. On Fridays, matches will start at 1pm and 3:15pm Eastern. Saturday matches will start at 7:30am, 10am, 12:30pm, and 2:45pm. Sundays will see kickoffs at 9am, 11:15am, and 2pm. Midweek matches will be spread out Tuesday-Thursday with 1pm and 3:15pm starts as well. Which means almost every single one will be on NBCSN or NBC, or on the NBCSN website. Suddenly you won’t have to worry about finishing Netflix while stuck at home. It also means Rebecca Lowe will be a major part of your life, being a beacon of light and hope in the darkest period of our lives.
Off we go.