Five Scores to Be Settled As The Premier League Returns
by Dominic Pasteiner
Founder of Sporthought.com
On June 17th, the Premier League will finally return. After a three-month enforced hiatus due to the global health crisis, the league's governing bodies have at last managed to navigate their way through the sea of logistical hurdles to agree on how football can safely be played in the UK once again. Over the next 10 days, clubs up and down the country will be gradually increasing the intensity of their training schedules in a frantic bid to prepare their players for action. It will be a whirlwind and entertaining end to the 2019-20 season.
Given that there are still around a quarter of fixtures still to be played, there is a lot riding on the next couple of months. Here is a breakdown of five crucial issues that remain unresolved as we prepare for the return of the beautiful game in the UK.
When the league was postponed in early March, broadcasters desperately turned to the drawing board to brainstorm new content ideas to fill the gap in their air-time. But among the myriad of stop-gap panel discussions, quizzes and watch-alongs, no-one has been discussing arguably the most important question of all - who will be crowned champions? This is because Liverpool are on the cusp of winning the title at a canter. With a lead of 25 points over rivals Manchester City, it would seem to be a question of when not if. However, it is not over until the big-boned woman croons, and if Liverpool do trip up in their first couple of games, we could have a title race on our hands. Remember, Leicester won the league in 2016. Stranger things have happened.
While the identity of the title winners appears to be a foregone conclusion, that is far from the case at the foot of the table. Newly promoted Norwich City, six points adrift of safety in last place, look unlikely to extend their brief stay in the top division. But after that it gets congested. Aston Villa and Bournemouth currently fill the other two unwanted spots in the bottom three with 25 and 27 points respectively. Watford and West Ham also have 27, while Brighton, on 29, are far from safe. According to sports data analysts Gracenote, Villa have a 62% chance of going down while Bournemouth, with matches against both Manchester sides and Tottenham still to come, are the most likely to join them in the Championship next season.
With the financial fall-out from COVID-19 likely to be painful for football clubs around the country, the revenue generated from Champions League participation has perhaps never been more coveted. As it stands, Leicester City and Chelsea are set to join Liverpool and Manchester City in the top four and in doing so qualify for Europe's elite club competition. That said, the Manchester club is currently banned from European football next season for financial fair play breaches, potentially opening the door for rivals Manchester United, who lie in fifth place. But the race below United is close; only six points separate them from 11th placed Crystal Palace. With big names like Tottenham and Arsenal among the chasing pack, the stage is set for a thrilling, see-saw sprint for to the finish.
Just as three clubs must go down, so too must three clubs join the Premier League from the Championship next season. Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion are in pole position to secure the automatic promotion spots, while Fulham, six points further back in third, appear well-placed for a spot in the playoffs at least. Brentford and Nottingham Forest also look good in fourth and fifth places respectively, but the race for sixth place - and with it the final playoff spot - is entirely up for grabs. Preston North End are there at the moment, but after losing four of their last five matches - including their last three - appear to be hitting a run of bad form at the worst possible time. Any club in the top half of the table, right down to Queens Park Rangers in 13th, will fancy their chances of snatching the final spot if they can produce a strong sequence of results when play gets back underway on June 20th.
While football is a team sport, individual honours are always a huge incentive for players and few are more prestigious than the Premier League Golden Boot. The award, handed out to the top scorer in the league at the end of every season, is usually a closely-fought contest and this year will be no different. Leicester's Jamie Vardy currently leads the way with 19 goals, but with matches against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham all on the horizon, he will be hard pushed to still be there come the season's end. Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, last year's winner, leads the chasing pack with 17 goals while Liverpool's Mo Salah and Man City's Sergio Aguero - also former recipients of the award - are not far behind on 16 each.