What did we learn from the Premier League return? The long-awaited Premier League return was a joyous, poignant and powerful moment all wrapped in one as the action returned to stadiums across England over the past week.
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Following the suspension in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2019-20 season resumed and we learned plenty about how games will look between now and the end of July when the current season is scheduled to finish.
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Here’s a look at some of the key things learned from the Premier League return.
United against racism
Powerful. Poignant. United. That summed up the Premier League protests against racism as players from every single team wore ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the back of their shirts instead of player names for the first batch of games, plus will proudly wear the logo on their sleeve for the rest of the season. The moving moment at the start of each game when all 22 players, plus the officials, coaching staff and others at the stadiums all took a knee when the first whistle blew hit home just how strongly everyone connected with the Premier League feels about the Black Lives Matter movement. Goal celebrations from Olivier Giroud, Nathan Redmond and Allan Saint-Maximin were particularly poignant as they took a knee and raised one fist to the sky. The Premier League and its players sent out a clear message to everyone watching around the world: Black Lives Matter.
Slow starts and crazy second halves
It is fair to say most teams eased themselves into games. There were very few goals in the first half of games. In the opening 11 games there were just five first half goals scored and two of those came for Crystal Palace in their 2-0 win at Bournemouth. Players looked rusty, which is understandable, and it will be intriguing to see if that trend of slow starts continues. With cooling breaks now taking place at the midway point of each halves, that slows things down a little, so too do the multiple subs late in games to make use of the new five substitute rule.
Five sub rule benefit
There is no doubt the five sub rule will benefit the big boys with stacked squads. Mourinho made that point as Man United surged back into the game at Tottenham as they had Pogba, Greenwood and Ighalo to bring off the bench. Chelsea use it really well with Barkley, Pulisic and Abraham coming on, while teams lower down the table didn’t fare so well as they generally don’t have as many top quality options on the bench. The five substitute rule seems to swing in the favor of the big boys.
Relegation battle a little clearer
With their wins, Southampton and Newcastle all but secured Premier League safety for another season, while Brighton beating Arsenal was a massive shock and moment in the season for Graham Potter’s side. Home defeats for West Ham and Bournemouth highlighted the mountain they have to climb as they have ridiculously tough schedules remaining. Norwich look doomed, while Aston Villa are battling hard but may just come up short. It looks like three from Norwich, Villa, Bournemouth, West Ham and Watford will go down with 19th place and 16th place separated by just two points. This will be crazy.
Away form to improve
It’s a smaller sample size but we’ve seen in the Bundesliga already that away teams have picked up many more away wins that usual since the restart. It seems like that trend may continue in the Premier League. From the opening 11 games there have been just three home wins and a few weeks from know we can draw a better conclusion on this. It’s safe to say having no fans in your home stadium must feel stranger for home teams than away teams and will take plenty of getting used to.
Momentum will be key
Wolves, Man United, Newcastle and Man City have it. Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Sheffield United do not. When you’re winning games and have momentum on your side, this beautiful game just becomes easier. When you don’t have it, well, it can be a struggle. Having momentum will be key for these nine matchweeks wedged into five actual weeks to finish the season. Things can quickly get out of hand in a positive or negative way between now and July. Momentum has always been key but it is especially important now.