English Premier League back with doubleheader after 100-day shutdown
Exactly 100 days after the last game, the Premier League is back.
In stadiums restricted to around 300 people due to the ongoing pandemic risks, Aston Villa will take on European hopefuls Sheffield United on Wednesday night followed by Manchester City vs Arsenal.
It will usher in an unprecedented summer blitz of games in an attempt to complete the season by July 26.
Social distancing exemptions have been granted to allow teams to return to training and now full matches. There has been a month of twice-weekly COVID-19 tests for players and coaches.
The Premier League was suspended after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for the coronavirus on March 12. Now Arteta's on-field priority is trying to return Arsenal to the Champions League.
The north London club goes into the restart ninth in the standings, eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. But fifth place will secure a spot in the elite European competition if second-place Manchester City's two-season European ban is confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport next month.
The blue half of Manchester knows it will be surrendering the Premier League trophy to Liverpool. The celebrations have been delayed since March, but the title can be secured in the next week. If City loses to Arsenal in Wednesday's kickoff, Liverpool can end a 30-year league title drought by beating Everton in the Merseyside derby on Sunday.
What will it look like for the fans?
Artificial sound will be made available to viewers, but some live supporters will be streamed from home into stadiums on big screens, with pubs still closed. Some teams like Brighton, where Arsenal visits on Saturday, will also put cardboard cutouts of fans on seats.
Players will be asked where possible to maintain social distancing – staying 2 metres apart – in dressing rooms, coming onto the field, during warm-ups and in celebrations. But there is a designated camera now in front of which players can celebrate goals.
For now, only 110 people will be allowed in the red zone around the field of play, and will be required to have returned a negative COVID-19 test in the previous five days as part of a medical passport that will see a barcode scanned before they can enter.
Teams are being encouraged to travel across England on the day of the game – ideally by plane – rather than staying in hotels.