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The Premier League is Back: Five Things to Watch Out for as English Football Returns

Less than 300 people will be inside Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, 17 June, as the champions take on Arsenal - whose manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus back on 12 March - behind closed doors.

So what is there to look out for as the Premier League finally finishes a season which was put on pause back in March?

​Liverpool’s Long Wait is Almost Over

Even if Manchester City beat Arsenal they will still be 22 points behind Liverpool, who are awaiting their first ever Premier League title.

Liverpool were last crowned champions of England in 1990, two years before the Premier League was created.

The Reds have been resurgent under German manager Jurgen Klopp and just missed out on the final day of the season last year.

But this season they have been unstoppable - losing only one match (compared to City’s seven) and conceding only 21 goals.

​Supporters of rival clubs like Manchester United were joking on social media in March when the Premier League season was halted due to the coronavirus outbreak and it looked as if the Merseyside club would be denied the title again.

If City - whose manager Pep Guardiola lost his mother to COVID-19 - were to lose at home to Arsenal then Liverpool could win the title at the home of Merseyside rivals Everton on Sunday, 21 June.

Assuming City win then Liverpool might have to wait until their home game against Crystal Palace on 24 June but it is conceivable that if the Reds slip up they might have to wait until 2 July when they travel to the Etihad.

Either way Liverpool will win the title.

Who Will Go Down?

Aston Villa host Sheffield United at Villa Park on Wednesday night, knowing it is their crucial game in hand over their relegation rivals.

Villa will be determined to grab a win - their first in five matches - to move themselves above Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham and crucially out of the relegation zone.

But that will be by no means the end of the story.

​There are another 90 league games packed into a frenetic 40 day period before the season ends on 26 July.

Fixtures will be played behind closed doors as one of a host of measures to prevent any further cases of the virus.

Norwich City - who were promoted last year - are almost certain to go back down as they only have 21 points and a much worse goal difference than their rivals.

But the other two relegation spots will be fought out between Villa, Bournemouth, Watford, West Ham and Brighton.

Although Brighton have 29 points they also have the hardest fixture list with games against Arsenal, Leicester, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City to come.

Expect Norwich, Brighton and Bournemouth to go down, with Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion and possibly Fulham replacing them.

A Lot Has Happened While Football Has Been Away

The last Premier League game was Leicester’s 4-0 win over Aston Villa on 9 March and the season was suspended a few days later and then halted indefinitely.

Because of the money and the prestige involved the decision was eventually taken to resume the Premier League and the Championship but the League One and Two seasons were curtailed, with league positions decided by a strange formula which left the owners of Peterborough United apoplectic.

But promotion, relegation and even the survival of certain clubs pales into insignificance compared with the 42,000 people who have lost their lives - coincidentally the capacity of Villa Park in Birmingham, which is hosting a match on Wednesday.

​A minute's silence will take place at Villa Park and at the Etihad to remember those who have died with coronavirus and heart-shaped badges will be worn by the players in tribute to NHS staff.

The death of George Floyd on 25 May and the subsequent protests in the US and in the UK will also be recognised.

For the first 12 matches of the resumed season the backs of all the player shirts will carry the slogan Black Lives Matter, instead of players’ names.

Football has had its own problems with racism, with several Chelsea fans banned indefinitely earlier in the season for racist abuse of Manchester City and England winger Raheem Sterling.

'You’re Not Singing Any More'

No spectators will be allowed inside Premier League stadiums for the rest of the season which means that the games will be played out in very surreal atmospheres.

As and when Liverpool win the title the players will be celebrating among themselves and Anfield season ticket holders will have to jump up and down on their sofas or in the street instead.

Even the obligatory bus-top ride through Liverpool city centre is unlikely to take place because of COVID-19.

Players have been asked to maintain social distancing in the dressing rooms but not on the field.

Only 110 people - players, coaches, officials and camera crews - will be allowed in the red zone around the field of play, and will have to have tested negative for COVID-19 in the previous five days.

​Several clubs have copied German teams in the Bundesliga and installed cardboard cutouts behind the goals and at least one - Brighton - are charging fans £20 to get their photo on a cutout.

The absence of fans does of course mean that there is no danger of any hooliganism at the stadiums and no need for stewards, police or crowd control.

But Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said: “Obviously it is going to be an odd experience without fans. The Premier League won't be back with a capital B until fans are back.”

That may not be until halfway through the 2020/2021 season.

Football Addicts Get Their Fix on TV

All the games will be shown on one digital television channel or another, with even the BBC being allowed to broadcast a couple of games free-to-air on its terrestrial channel.

​Games are kicking off at staggered times in a bid to maximise viewers.

Villa’s match against Sheffield United starts at 6pm, while Manchester City’s game kicks off at 8.15pm.

Season ticket holders with Championship clubs will be able to watch matches for free on the iFollow online service.

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